John McCain knows North Korea - unlike Iraq & Libya - is not 'low-hanging fruit'
Republican Senator John McCain, who supported Trump for bombing a Syrian airbase earlier in April, expressed more tepid views when questioned on the best way to resolve the North Korean crisis.
McCain, who dined with the president on Monday, said the key to solving the crisis in the Korean Peninsula is China.
“The Chinese can put the brakes on this [Pyongyang’s nuclear program]. I do not believe that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un is going to do that by himself. I don't think he's irrational, but I don't think he's concerned about the welfare of his people to say, the least,” he said.
So why the change in tact for John McCain and other hawks in Washington when addressing the North Korean crisis, as compared with their more belligerent stance when dealing with Syria?
Brian Becker, Answer Coalition
I think John McCain, generally speaking, is a politician who has never found a war that he doesn’t like. He is always the advocate of the most aggressive militaristic foreign policy. What his comments on North Korea represent and what they reflect is an acknowledgement, even by the hardcore militarists in Washington, that a war with North Korea will not be like Iraq, it will not be like Libya. A senior Bush administration official from George W. Bush’s administration told me that the US invaded Iraq because it was low hanging fruit, meaning it would be easy to capture it.
That is not true with North Korea. North Korea not only has a nuclear deterrent, but conventional weapons they can obliterate thousands of American soldiers that are stationed in South Korea and nearby military bases in Japan. This would not be a war in which all the bleeding is done on the other side. That becomes a deterrent for US policy makers and those traditionally representing the most hawkish views like John McCain.
I don’t think they’re backing down when it comes to North Korea… I think what was happening with Donald Trump was a lot of bluster and a lot of bluff. You never know with Donald Trump what his bottom line is. I don’t think he is a very good negotiator because you never know what his bottom line was. He thinks… the North Koreans will be scared. He thinks if he drops a 21,000-pound bomb on Afghanistan it would create fear and trembling in North Korea. North Korea has been through a lot. Five million Koreans died in the Korean War. They’re not in a trembling state. So I think there’s a recognition now that unlike Syria, North Korea has the capability of hitting back, and in fact will hit back and American soldiers are close at hand. They are just 30 miles away in Seoul and at other military bases in the southern part of the peninsula.
Gregory Copley, editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs website
I don’t think he is talking about being less aggressive. I think he is making sure that the military option is seen to be still on the table. Quite clearly, when you’ve got a nuclear-armed country such as North Korea, you don’t want to precipitate a crisis. You certainly don’t want a military option to be the first thing on the table. Senator McCain was able to be his usual hawkish self, but with a load of prudence and caution attached to that.
The reality is that military options are not ideal for any of the parties. What this whole confrontational situation has led to, this brinkmanship on all sides, it’s led to the possibility that the Trump administration might in fact try something entirely new, which could be direct face-to-face negotiations with the North Koreans, perhaps with Chinese presence. It could be a win-win for all concerned, if, for example, the United States were to come up with a policy to recognize North Korea as a legitimate government; that would also force South Korea to renounce its claims to reunification. That means you could have two separate states recognizing each other side-by-side on the Korean Peninsula. That would please China, because China wants a buffer state in North Korea...
There is no question that threatening Syria has been seen by Senator McCain as a penalty-free zone. He can threaten Syria with impunity; he can’t threaten North Korea with impunity. Frankly the nominal strike, which the Trump administration took against the Syrian air force base recently was enough to satisfy and quiet Senator McCain and Senator [Lindsey] Graham, and a lot of the media in the US. He backed off there, but frankly McCain, you have to bear in mind, is a Senator he is not a member of the administration… he is not a decision maker.
Michael Maloof, former Pentagon official
Senator McCain also went on to say that North Korea has much artillery along the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, and Seoul, the capital of South Korea is only 30 miles away. You’ve got millions of people living in Seoul that would be barraged with artillery fire. There is something to that. However, what President Trump is doing is taking charge of the situation at this point to drive the effort to get some settlement underway, because North Korea is improving on its nuclear bomb development and also on its missiles. However, at this point if I were Kim Jong-un, I would not want to be launching any preemptive missile strike anywhere since his missiles don’t seem to be working at the moment. Be that as it may, it is important that negotiation and diplomacy be paramount… Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson asked of the countries in the region to begin to take seriously sanctions against North Korea until North Korea comes around…
North Korea is different than Syria in many respects. But the fact is as with North Korea there is the option of discussion. The North Koreans have made it clear through diplomatic channels and otherwise that they would rather have a direct sit-down with the US to negotiate. Keep in mind the US technically is still at war with North Korea and South Korea as well. The reason why the US hasn’t done that until now, because South Korea has always insisted that they be included in any discussions. But what North Korea is doing is preempting that and wanting to talk to the US.
US Secretary of State Tillerson has now said he is not opposed to that, which is different from US policy of the past. That opens up a potential channel. Senator McCain is not against the use of military power when it’s called for. I am not a spokesman, but he also has said that all options are on the table and you never exclude an option, such as military, because then there is no incentive for North Korea to abide by the international community…
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