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Will America’s North Korea Response Be Informed By History? by Mark Erickson

I came across this passage last night while reading Tim Weiner’s book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon. The next paragraph is verbatim (page 68).

“We tried every operational approach in the book, and committed our most experienced field operatives to the effort to get inside the government in Hanoi,” CIA Director Richard Helms wrote long after the war was lost. “Within the Agency, our failure to penetrate the North Vietnamese government was the single most frustrating aspect of those years. We could not determine what was going on at the highest levels of Ho’s government, nor could we learn how policy was made or who was making it.” At the root of the failure was “our national ignorance of Vietnamese history, society, and language,” Helms admitted. Know your enemy is the oldest rule in the book of war; America broke it.

Regarding North Korea, the press consistently reports that very little is known by the outside world about the tightly closed-off communist country. We read about the surprise when Kim Jong Un and North Korea launched a test missle that had an arc that could quite possibly hit Alaska. More test missles and more surprises have ensued. How large is North Korea’s nuclear and missle stockpile?

Then there is the issue of Kim Jong Un’s chemical weapons program. Two women accused of poisoning and killing Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, with VX, the deadliest of nerve agents, last February had their trial start earlier this month in Malaysia. VX is not something that can be made at home. How large is North Korea’s chemical weapons program? Since North Korea has told (presuming a guilty verdict) the international community that it can kill anybody, anywhere, and stores an untold number of missles, with what ease could a VX chemical warhead be launched? This would cause massive devastation to civilians.

Welcome to the WMD club, North Korea. Now, you know you will be completely annihilated if you wipe out a city with VX. Other countries need to use diplomatic means and containment, along with the known, strong “deterrence,” as an action plan, which is far better to the bellicose, unpredictable POTUS who is currently threatening a pre-emptive attack.

I cannot say it any better than my favorite Chicago Tribune reporter, Steve Chapman, who writes on the editorial page. He wrote in July 2017, “Looking back, it’s clear we suffered greater harm from acting to pre-empt Saddam Hussein than we would have by standing back and trusting in our overwhelming capacity to punish him if he ever used his worst weapons. North Korea affords us an opportunity to learn from that colossal mistake. Or we could repeat it.”

Mark Erickson

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