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Tomgram: John Feffer, Avoiding War with Pyongyang

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From flickr.com: President Nixon with Prime Minister Chou-Enlai - TT Nixon vi Th tdegreesng Chu n Lai - 1972 {MID-154610}
President Nixon with Prime Minister Chou-Enlai - TT Nixon vi Th tdegreesng Chu n Lai - 1972
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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

If you happen to be a dystopian novelist, as TomDispatch regular John Feffer is, then you're in business these days. Back in 2015, when Donald Trump's campaign for the presidency was just heating up and Feffer was writing Splinterlands, his vivid look back from the year 2050 at our shattered planet, he named the massive storm that would devastate Washington in 2022 "Hurricane Donald" -- and you can't be more predictively on the mark or dystopian than that. Now, in August 2017, armed bands of neo-Nazis and white supremacists are in our streets and we have a president whose deepest desire seems to be to support them (because they support him). Meanwhile, the generals from our losing wars are manning the ramparts of an embattled administration (and being treated by the mainstream media as the "adults in the room") and an unpredictable man-child is in the White House. In other words, the material is clearly going to be there for Feffer -- in his ordinary life a thoughtful columnist at Foreign Policy in Focus -- to devote the rest of his time to dystopian fiction.

And that's without even mentioning America's dystopian Asian wars of the past, present, and possibly future. They undoubtedly deserve their own grim set of novels, starting with the bloody and brutal American conquest of the Philippines. Included would also have to be the Pacific War against Japan that ended when a new weapon of unimaginable power obliterated two Japanese cities and significant parts of their populations, leaving humanity to face the possibility of its own future obliteration (and you can't get more dystopian than that); the Vietnam War that left millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians (and 58,000 Americans) dead; a quarter century of Afghan Wars (the second of them now the longest in American history); and last but hardly least, the Korean War, which began in June 1950 and halted in 1953, after millions of Koreans (and 36,000 Americans) had died. By the estimate of the then-head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, 20% of the North's population died in those years under a rain of 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,557 tons of napalm (more than was used against the Japanese in World War II), while the North was burned to a crisp without atomic weapons.

In a strange sense, that conflict became America's first permanent war since no peace treaty was ever agreed to -- though all American wars now seem to be permanent. Of course, with Donald Trump's recent impromptu comment that North Korean threats "will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before," an obvious nuclear reference made on the eve of the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, a future Korean inferno is once again on many minds here and elsewhere, John Feffer's included. And yet he suggests that, if only American officialdom could rid itself of its own dystopian turn of mind when it comes to North Korea, there might be a perfectly peaceable and reasonable way forward. If only indeed... Tom

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Trump and the Geopolitics of Crazy; The Times They Are A-Changin' in North Korea
By John Feffer

The United States has beaten its head against the wall of North Korea for more than 70 years, and that wall has changed little indeed as a result. The United States, meanwhile, has suffered one headache after another.

Over the last several weeks, the head banging has intensified. North Korea has tested a couple of possible intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response, Donald Trump has threatened that country with "fire and fury," one-upping the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang. And North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is debating whether to fire a missile or two into the waters around the American island of Guam as a warning of what his country is capable of doing.

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Ignore, for the moment, Trump's off-the-cuff belligerence. Despite all their promises to overhaul North Korea policy, his top officials have closely followed the same headache-inducing pattern as their predecessors.

Threaten that all options are on the table? Check.

Apply more sanctions, even tighter ones, fiercer international ones? Check.

Try to twist China's arm to rein in its erstwhile ally? Check.

As Trump flirts with the same default position of "strategic patience" adopted by the Obama administration, two other options beckon: talk or attack.

So far, the prospects for negotiations have been rather dim. True, Trump has directed some backhanded compliments at Kim Jong-un (a "smart cookie") and broached the possibility of talking person-to-person with the North Korean leader. Backchannel discussions with that country's U.N. mission in New York have made modest headway over the last several months on issues like the detention of American citizens. But President Trump is, by nature, erratic, and a purposefully understaffed State Department and distinctly under-informed National Security Council are not exactly firing on all diplomatic cylinders.

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Then, of course, there's the other alternative (an option also considered by previous administrations): launching a more concerted effort at regime change. That approach clearly has some traction both with the impetuous man in the Oval Office and within his administration. CIA chief Mike Pompeo has, for instance, spoken of an imperative to "separate" the regime from its nuclear weapons (and he didn't mean through negotiations). National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster has openly discussed a "preventive war" option against North Korea that sounds ominously like what the United States had in place for Iraq back in 2003. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley even declared at one point that "the time for talk is over." (Presumably she meant the time for talk with, not at, since Donald Trump continues to excel at the latter.)

The fever dream of regime change has persisted in Washington for decades like a bad case of political malaria that repeated doses of realism have never quite eradicated. The irony is that North Korea is indeed changing, just not in response to what the United States is doing. As with China in the 1970s, Washington could encourage those changes by giving up its aggressive ambitions, stepping away from the lukewarm option of "strategic patience," and actually sitting down to talk seriously with Pyongyang without preconditions.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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