Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam
America is facing the same old bad choices in North Korea.
Either we apply multilateral sanctions hoping that Kim Jong-un, unlike his dad, Saddam Hussein and the Supreme Leader of Iran, will be suitably impressed by having to smuggle his iPhones through three other countries. Or we build a multilateral coalition to take out its military with minimal civilian casualties and then spend the next decade reconstructing and policing it into a proper member of the United Nations.
Is anyone surprised that after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans have little appetite for either alternative?
How is it possible that we beat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in less time than it’s taking us to figure out that we can’t even trust the clods of dirt in Afghanistan? Let alone reach a peace deal with them.
But WW2 was a war. It may have been the last war in which we leveraged all the firepower at our disposal to smash an enemy. We don’t fight wars anymore. Instead we’re the world’s policeman.
The military and the police have very different functions. The military destroys a threat. The police keep order. What we’ve been trying and failing to do in Afghanistan is keep order. It’s what we want to do in North Korea. Get that obnoxious kid next door to stop testing nukes every time he has a bad day.
The vocabulary is a dead giveaway. When we call a country a “rogue state” instead of an “enemy”, we’re not saying that it’s a deadly threat to us, but that it’s not behaving the way a member of the global community should. But being a “rogue state” is only a crime to globalists. Our problem isn’t that North Korea is failing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Treatment of Radishes. It’s the nukes.
To solve a problem, you have to clearly define it because your solution will follow your formulation.
To globalists, the problem is an anti-social withdrawal from the global community. The solution is global “shunning” sanctions followed by a return to the loving arms of the global community.
That’s why the Iran nuke deal disaster happened. The diplomats didn’t care a radioactive fig about Iran’s nukes. They were invested in Iran’s membership in the “international community”. And they got what they wanted. They once got North Korea to sign on the dotted line too. And if you stand downwind of the latest test site with a Geiger counter, you know how that worked out.
If we want to win wars, we should stop being the world’s policeman. And defend ourselves instead.
Multilateral sanctions and multilateral coalitions aren’t our only two options. They’re our only two options if we want to spend our time enforcing the will of an imaginary international community.
The international community is a failed illusion. We’ve sacrificed far too many lives and too much money trying to defend our national interests by the rules of a post-national global order. That tragic mismatch dragged us into a disastrous and horrifying series of stalemates and lost wars. These stalemates, like Afghanistan, never end for the same reason that the cops in Chicago can never just declare victory.
Keeping order is an endless job. Policing means accepting the way things are and trying to keep them from getting too far out of hand while hoping that social conditions will somehow improve.
Police officers serve the public. They are expected to die for civilians. That’s exactly what our soldiers have been expected to do in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other societies that we’ve been policing.
If there’s any president who can actually break the cycle and replace policing with war, it’s President Trump. Trump is the first president in a long time to express skepticism about international commitments and the global order. And to propose that we serve our own national interests instead of serving the international community. And that is what needs to happen in North Korea.
Our old reasons for being in Korea expired with the fall of Communism. South Korea just elected a leftist president who likes North Korea better than he likes us. But that sort of thing has been known to happen. Like American leftists, South Korean leftists believe the stalemate with North Korea is our fault.
They have the right to test out that theory.
Our concern with North Korea is not that it might endanger our shipments of Samsung phones, but that its nuclear weapons will endanger us. Any hostile country with nuclear weapons is a potential threat. But North Korea has repeatedly threatened to use its nuclear weapons and has exported its technology to Islamic terror states. Even if we could shrug at the former, we can’t afford to ignore the latter.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists is the great threat of this century. Imagine the Islamic terror attacks of the last few years if the Jihadists didn’t have to make do with guns, bombs and cars. If we don’t turn off that pipeline in North Korea, Iran and Pakistan, the day will come when we aren’t watching dozens, hundreds or thousands dying on television in the cities of the West, but millions.
Preventing that moment from happening in this century must be our primary strategic objective.
Our post 9⁄11 engagements drifted from strategic objectives in our national interest that were achievable by military means to international community building projects in which armed force was an obstacle to its diplomatic objectives. That is how Obama’s Afghan surge cost the lives of so many soldiers by tying their hands with rules of engagement that did not allow them to engage the enemy.
President Trump has the opportunity to change all that in North Korea. To win in North Korea, we have to stop thinking in globalist terms. That means discarding talk of “isolating” North Korea. The Norks are already as “isolated” as they’re going to get. Any nation with nuclear weapons and the ability to threaten the United States will always be able to find friends among our enemies.
The trouble with North Korea isn’t that it’s a “Rogue State”. There’s nothing wrong with being a rogue state. We ought to try being one for a change instead of asking the UN for permission to sneeze. The international community is not the problem with North Korea. Nor is international law the solution.
Once we define the problem, we can define the objective. The problem is that North Korea is a dangerous enemy because of its nuclear program. We have two options. Ignore or act.
Plenty of presidents have kicked the nuclear Nork can down the road. Now it’s Trump’s problem.
There will be those around him who will urge him down the same dead end of sanctions, multilateral conferences, condemnations and negotiations. The can will go on rolling down the road. And one fine day, it will go off. Or we can actually end the threat that the North Korean nukes pose to us.
We have grown used to constant military action everywhere around the world. And we have also come to expect that it won’t accomplish anything except to exact an endless cost in money and lives. But those are not wars. They are internationalist police and peacekeeping actions in which we bomb lightly and invade only to rebuild. We are the world’s beat cop with tanks and bombers. It has been a long time since we used the huge warfighting arsenal of our defense industry to actually make war.
Wars don’t have to be long. They do have to be decisive. Their goal isn’t to reunite a lost sheep in the international community, but to destroy the enemy. Since the Cold War ended, we have not truly contemplated a war of destruction. But if we intend to win again, now might be the time to start.
We have spent a great deal of time trying to achieve diplomatic objectives through military means and military objectives through diplomatic means. What we have not done is tackle military objectives through military means. North Korea is not a diplomatic problem, but a military one.
Three options lie before us. We can walk away, withdraw all our forces, limit the potential risk and see what develops. We can destroy North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and as much of the regime infrastructure as we can manage. Or we can continue kicking the can down the road. That is the existing policy and it is the worst of all the three because it exposes us to the most risk with the least upside.
President Trump is the best hope for dropping an existing policy so stupid that only an establishment could cling to it. As an outsider, he is instinctively skeptical of the way things are.
When Alexander the Great was told that to rule he would have to untie a complex knot, he used his sword to cut it apart. The Gordian Knot of our foreign policy looks complicated until you take a sword to it. We can spend the next century trying to make everyone love each other. Or we can fight to win.