A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic and Illegal

by Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | News Analysis –

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller impanels two grand juries to investigate Donald Trump and his associates, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home is searched, Trump needs to distract attention from the investigation into his alleged wrongdoing.

North Korea has provided just such a distraction — albeit a potentially catastrophic one.

On Tuesday, Trump stated, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Friday morning, Trump warned North Korea that the US military is “locked and loaded.”

Trump has learned that bombing other countries enhances a president’s popularity. In April, with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, each armed with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, he went from scoundrel-in-chief to national hero virtually overnight. The corporate media, the neoconservatives and most of Congress hailed Trump as strong and presidential for lobbing the missiles into Syria, reportedly killing nine civilians, including four children.

Several hours after Trump’s recent “fire and fury” statement, Pyongyang warned it was “carefully examining” a strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, the site of an important US military base and home to more than 160,000 people.

North Korea has accused the United States of planning a “preventive war,” saying that plans to mount one would be met with an “all-out war, wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the US mainland.” A spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army promised, “the tragic end of the American empire will be hastened.”

In an attempt to tamp down fears of all-out war, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there is not “any imminent threat” from North Korea.

But Defense Secretary James Mattis cautioned that Pyongyang “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” And National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the White House is considering all options, including “preventative war.”

Trump’s bellicose rhetoric against North Korea began shortly after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) claimed that Pyongyang has developed a miniature nuclear warhead for its missiles. A DNI report issued in July said, “North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic-missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” according to the Washington Post.

The DNI’s claim is questionable, however, as none of the other US intelligence agencies has ratified it. In fact, the DNI issued an identical report on North Korean nuclear capabilities in 2013.

Trump has indicated his willingness to use nuclear weapons. In August 2016 MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough reported that Trump asked a senior foreign policy adviser about nuclear weapons three times during a briefing, then queried, “If we had them why can’t we use them?”

An Attack on North Korea Would Be Dangerous

The Intercept reports that “even a conventional war between the US and [North Korea] could kill more than 1 million people; a nuclear exchange, therefore, might result in tens of millions of casualties.”

More than 60 House Democrats, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), sent a letter to Tillerson expressing their “profound concern over the statements made by President Trump that dramatically increased tensions with North Korea and raised the specter of nuclear war.” The letter says, “These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people.”

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Reprinted with permission from Truthout