Trump Promises “Something” About North Korea

Yonhap News/Newscom via ZUMA

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Fresh from the adoring, bused-in crowds that greeted him on his arrival in Poland, our president had some things to say about North Korea today:

In Warsaw, Trump said the United States was considering “some pretty severe things” in response to what he called “very, very bad behavior” from the North, although he did not mention any specific plans. “Something will have to be done about it,” he said.

“Something.” Would you care to offer a comment above a sixth-grade level, Mr. President? No? Roger that.

There aren’t a whole lot of options when it comes to North Korea. We can tick them off in a few moments:

  • Sanctions. Go whole hog on economic sanctions. This is the most likely possibility, but the problem is that about 85 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China. We could kill off the rest of the world’s trade and it wouldn’t make much difference. So China is it, and there’s a limit to the kind of sanctions we want to levy against China. They can fight back, after all.
  • Nuclear attack. Destroy North Korea’s nuclear capability and its conventional retaliatory capability against Seoul. There’s no way to do this quickly except via nuclear weapons. So this amounts to dropping several nuclear bombs on North Korea.

Am I missing anything? A blockade accomplishes nothing since most trade is overland with China. A conventional attack would result in thousands or millions of South Korean—and maybe Japanese—casualties. A diplomatic solution is unlikely in the extreme. North Korea is convinced—not without reason—that its nuclear weapons are the only sure protection against an American attack. And Chinese cooperation seems pretty unlikely short of convincing them that a nuclear attack is imminent unless they cut off North Korea entirely.

This is how I view it, anyway. We either launch a nuclear attack against North Korea or else their bomb and missile program is going to continue. Tell me why I’m wrong.

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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