How about U.S. look­ing be­fore it leaps this time?

Lessons we learned, or should have

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Doug Thompson Doug Thompson is a po­lit­i­cal re­porter and colum­nist for the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. Email him at dthomp­son@ nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWADoug.

“I have never seen such dev­as­ta­tion. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and dis­as­ter as any liv­ing man, and it just cur­dled my stom­ach the last time I was there.”

— Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur in 1951, dur­ing Se­nate hear­ings about the Korean War.

The two Koreas have more than three times as many peo­ple liv­ing there now as when MacArthur said that.

Our rear ends aren’t the only ones on the line in our stand­off over North Korea’s nu­clear weapons. Ours are not even very high on the list, ex­cept, of course, for those at­tached to our peo­ple in Guam or South Korea, mainly ser­vice peo­ple. They are fac­ing risks for the rest of us.

A lot of peo­ple’s lives de­pend on de­ci­sions are about to make. We should not re­peat the mis­takes of 2003. An evil dic­ta­tor has weapons of mass de­struc­tion. He re­ally does this time. Even if we can and should elim­i­nate the threat right now, this time we should look at the likely con­se­quences and risks first.

This time, the evil dic­ta­tor is not alone. He has a pro­tec­tor. The trick in a war with North Korea, as MacArthur found out, is to not trig­ger war with China.

But China’s econ­omy de­pends on us, some ar­gue. Oth­ers say the Chi­nese do not want a nuke-armed North Korea ei­ther. Two things. First, the eco­nomic stran­gle­hold is mu­tual. The Chi­nese hold much of our na­tional debt, for in­stance. Sec­ond and much more im­por­tant, even if China does not want a North Korea with nukes, it wants a crushed North Korea even less.

China went to war with us in 1950 to save North Korea. This was af­ter China suf­fered through the “war­lord” pe­riod of the 1920s, a civil war, then a geno­ci­dal war with Ja­pan, then a re­newed civil war end­ing in 1949. Then what was left went right into war with the world’s top su­per­power rather than let forces led by the United States de­stroy North Korea.

China does not want a U.S.-al­lied South Korea fill­ing the vac­uum left by a gut­ted North Korea. That has not changed. The North Kore­ans will never greet us as lib­er­a­tors. Even if they wanted to, the Chi­nese would not let them.

As for “sur­gi­cal strikes” and so forth, con­sider the Kore­ans them­selves, north and south. Af­ter all, it is their coun­tries we are think­ing of mak­ing a war zone. Of course I am not OK with a tin horn dic­ta­tor hav­ing nu­clear-tipped mis­siles that can hit Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and per­haps Cal­i­for­nia. I am just not in­dif­fer­ent to the fact he also has ar­tillery that can hit Seoul, a city of 10 mil­lion peo­ple. As men­tioned ear­lier, he re­ally does have weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

The refugee cri­sis desta­bi­liz­ing the Mid­dle East and Europe comes from Syria, a na­tion of just over 20 mil­lion peo­ple at its peak. The two Koreas have a to­tal of more than 76 mil­lion. And it is not as if Kore­ans can drive to Turkey or Le­banon, ei­ther. The North Kore­ans will flood China. The South Kore­ans have nowhere to go un­less they go by sea. They cer­tainly will not be wel­come in Ja­pan, a coun­try more para­noid about for­eign­ers than we are. So, how many mil­lion Korean refugees are we will­ing to ac­cept?

Also, our mil­i­tary is overex­tended and worn out al­ready. We have been us­ing them up since the last time we started a quick, sur­gi­cal cam­paign to elim­i­nate weapons of mass de­struc­tion. That started 14 years ago. We still have more war than we are will­ing to pay for.

We are poorer, blood­ied, di­vided against each other and wretch­edly led. The troops can­not do ev­ery­thing. They win wars. But it is up to our lead­ers to clinch the peace, or vic­tory goes to waste. This ad­min­is­tra­tion can­not get through a normal work day with­out self-in­flicted tur­moil. I ap­pre­ci­ate Gens. John Kelly, James Mat­tis and H.R. McMaster, but they are barely man­ag­ing to keep this ad­min­is­tra­tion be­tween the ditches.

I am not say­ing we should clutch our pearls and let North Korea keep nu­clear weapons. I am say­ing we should not ex­pect the mil­i­tary op­tion to be quick, easy, clean, cheap or sat­is­fac­tory. If we de­cide on war rather than on reach­ing a con­sen­sus and co­op­er­at­ing with China, South Korea, Ja­pan and, yes, Rus­sia, too, then that de­ci­sion should be based on the way things are, not the way we dream about. We have no ex­cuse for not know­ing bet­ter.

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