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Jul 11 2006

North Korea, and Reason 8,624 that the War on Iraq was a Bad Idea

Kimjongil_1I’m not a 100% hardcore pacifist. I’m pretty close to it, but I’m not one. I do think there are times — not bloody many, but some — when military action is a necessary evil.

And I think that now, or soon, might just possibly be one of those times. A mentally ill, megalomaniacal dictator has been firing nuclear missiles into the Sea of Japan, with the likely intent of testing whether they can hit California. I think military action should, at the very least, be an option. It should be something we can consider. It should be a card on the table.

But it’s not.

BurningflagThanks to the war on Iraq — which we had no good reason for getting into and which has no end in sight — we have (a) no military resources, and (b) no international credibility. Our military is stretched so thin it’s accepting white supremacists to fill out its ranks. And in the field of international diplomacy and conflict, we have all the credibility and moral high ground of Tony Soprano. If a situation arises in which we do, God forbid, need the army — we are hosed. We are fucked with a chainsaw.

WiggumI’m not saying the U.S. should unilaterally attack or invade North Korea. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman. This was always one of my main arguments against the war on Iraq in the first place. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman — for the simple reason that we suck at it. As the world’s policeman, we are both corrupt and staggeringly incompetent. Our record as the world’s policeman is comparable to that of Chief Wiggum.

But if there’s an international consensus that military action is necessary — in North Korea or anywhere else on this increasingly volatile planet — we should be able to participate.

And we can’t. We expended our resources — and our respectability — to unseat a dictator who had weapons of mass destruction a decade ago, and now we have nothing left to unseat a dictator who not only has nukes, but is actually threatening to use them.

And North Korea knows it. Every megalomaniacal nutcase dictator on the planet knows it.

So this is why you don’t start pointless, unnecessary wars. It’s not just for all the obvious reasons, the misery and suffering and death and evil and children with their limbs blown off. It’s because you then don’t have the option of waging war when it isn’t pointless, when it might just possibly be necessary.

Oh, but I forgot. The war on Iraq isn’t pointless.

Oil_wellIraq has oil. And North Korea doesn’t.

Lucky for North Korea.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Tim Walters

    While I completely agree with the main point of your post, invading North Korea would pose a serious problem even with the Army in good shape, namely that if we don’t win the shell game and get all their nukes, Seoul, and perhaps Tokyo, are toast. (Or not–depending on NK’s real intentions and capabilities–but as Buckaroo Banzai would say, do you want to roll those dice?)

  2. 2
    littleirishperson

    I agree that America should not be the world policeman, well said and Wiggin is too like Bush to be taken seriously. Military action on North Korea cannot be justified because of their sabre-rattling missile-launching threats. France tested missiles and nukes in the sixties and until recently and America is not threatening them. Both India and Pakistan were threatening each other until last year with Pakistan testing a nuke on its own soil. America did not step in. the Geneva convention states that it is the active removal of any foreign king or leader by force by a civilised nation. Made asa bag of frustrated badgers he might be but Kim Jong is still their leader. Until he actually pushes troops over the border, until he actively shoots a missile with the intention of killing people or starting a war, I think America, Britain, Haliburton, Lockheed, Exxon and Bush Gas should mind their own business and concentrate on spending their hard earned and stolen oil money on their own domestic problems. Put the pressure on, cut off trade, play irritating music over the walls and leaflet drop exagerrated body size threats like they did in Vietnam but back off. And I am saying this as someone who survived twenty years of conflict in my own little corner of the world.

  3. 3
    Greta Christina

    You both make excellent points. I should clarify. I’m not saying we should barge in with military action now. (Ingrid agrees with you, Tim: she keeps saying, “I don’t know *what* you’re supposed to do about an insane person with nuclear weapons.”)
    What I’m saying is — what am I saying? I guess I’m saying that it’s harder to put the pressure on in non-military ways when everyone knows that military action isn’t on the table — and when the rest of the world is sick of hearing you cry wolf. I’m saying that when you use military action as a first resort, it’s then no longer available to you as a last resort. I’m saying that we should be ready in case something happens that does warrant action. And we’re not.
    P.S. I love the phrase “Mad as a bag of frustrated badgers.” Very vivid.

  4. 4
    littleirishperson

    Be ready by all means, America is hinting about using it strategic satelites and old star wars programme to shoot down any missile threats. In my own little corner of the world, Northern Ireland, the British sent in troops to sort out a smaller but similar domestic threat, to stopmarchers colliding and seperate communities. What started as a peaceful ideal ended in twenty five years of conflict, what should have ebeen left as a few bloody noses and a bit of nervous tension ended with over three thousand deaths, atwo generations of divided communites and a htred that will last.
    I believe the Saddam thing was justified because the threat against his neighbours happened but an occupation force, what is considered as fourty thousand and counting deaths due to the war and the peace afterwards and gross financial corruption can not be justified. Wait till the badger gets out, hit it with a club and then run away. Not that I condemn Badger culling but them little black and white buggers can be quite vicious when roused which is why you never see them at family weddings.

  5. 5
    Lisa Roth

    military aggression never solves anything. period. and I’m not a pacifist either.

  6. 6
    Dan W

    I have no military service, but as an armchair historian, the concept of trying to invade North Korea gives me the willies. It’d be like trying to invade Switzerland, except with the possible hazard of nuclear weapons. As an example, some of North Korea’s highways are lined with giant concrete blocks. They’re on pivots, so that they can swing down and block the road ways. Wanna take bets on how many of the roads and bridges have been pre-mined? Switzerland’s bridges, for example, have explosives in them so that they can be taken down in seconds.
    Geographically, North Korea presents all the same problems as Aghanistan – lots of mountains, lots of high ground that has to be taken. Unlike Afghanistan, there’s no “in-country” opposition that wants to take over, so we wouldn’t get any help there.
    Add to that that our ally, South Korea most emphatically does not want us to invade or use force, and then add in that the People’s Republic of China most emphatically does not want an American ally bordering their country, and all of the ingredients are in place. You’re attacking an enemy that’s had approximately 53 years to dig into mountainous territory, has nuclear weapons, and you’re going to have to mount an amphibious invasion.
    Just as in 1952, if we were about to actually ‘win’, then we would have the very real possibility of ground combat with the People’s Liberation Army. While the PLA has “only” 2.2 million men under arms (and wouldn’t put all of those into the theater), there are at least another 100 million potential recruits. The PLA also doesn’t have to worry about things like voluntary enlistment, and is currently fielding a main battle tank that could be as good as the M-1 Abrams.
    Short of having Robert Heinlein’s starship troopers come in, I don’t see a way you can control the situation on the ground. Airstrikes into bunkers that are hundreds of feet into a mountain side won’t work with conventional weaponry.
    That leaves one option open other than Mutually Assured Destruction.

  7. 7
    Chris

    The missile failed minutes after launch and it’s known that North Korea doesn’t have the technology to fit a nuclear or chemical warhead on any of them. It was really a attention getting plea for Korea, and I don’t see it as too much to get alarmed by right now. It warrants further scrutiny but that’s it. Yes, the war in Iraq makes any invasion impractical in any case, which is quite an irony.
    A full scale invasion of Korea would be a worse problem than Iraq, it’s military hasn’t been decimated by years of sanctions.

  8. 8
    Laura D

    I can’t believe you all are talking about North Korea when there are people in the world having bad oral sex!

  9. 9
    Greta Christina

    Laura is right. I am deeply ashamed of all of us.
    Seriously… I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and am now thinking that, on the specific topic of North Korea, I may well have over-reacted. I do still stand by my more general point — that a very good reason for not getting into pointless wars is that they weaken both your diplomatic credibility and your ability to take military action (or at least threaten it) on the rare occasion when it isn’t pointless. And I still think the fact that North Korea’s leader is a megalomaniacal nutcase with his finger on a potential nuclear trigger is a good argument for having both diplomatic and military cred. But I now don’t think the N.K. missile testing justifies anything more than sitting up and paying serious attention. (That’s one of the reasons I love this blog — it’s a chance for me to think out loud, and get feedback on that thinking from smart thoughtful people, so I can think better. Maybe that’ll be my new subhead for the blog: “Thinking out loud since 2005.”)
    On the much more general question of “When is military action justified?”…
    Christ, I don’t know. I really don’t. I wish I could agree with Lisa and say that military aggression is never justified… but I think that depends on how you define “aggression.” And I don’t mean that in a nitpicky semantic way, either. I think it cuts to the heart of the question. Is it justified to invade a country for no reason other than we want what they have? No, of course not. Is it justified to defend yourself when some other asshole invades you? Yes, of course. But there are all these shades of gray in the middle where I’m not so sure. I think Vietnam and Iraq are terrible stains on our country’s history… but I think the fact that we stood around picking our noses when hundreds of thousands of people were being slaughtered in Rwanda is an equally terrible stain.
    Of course, the monkey wrench in all of this is the fact that the U.S.’s post-WWII history in these matters is abysmal. Even in the rare situations where I think military action is called for, I have a reflexive revulsion against us being the ones to take it. Ever. Our military moral compass seems to be set at “Do they have stuff we want?” and “Are they Communist?” We suck at this — see “Chief Wiggum” notes in my original post. Again, that’s one of my big arguments against our attack on Iraq — the quagmire-y outcome was depressingly foreseeable.
    The best practical answer I can come up with to that one is “Get the U.N. some teeth — and get its mouth dislodged from the U.S.’s cock.” But I have no idea how to even begin to try to help make that happen.
    God, I hate this. Sometimes I hate this world. We are such stupid monkeys sometimes. Can’t we be more like bonobo apes and solve our social conflicts by playing with each other’s genitals?
    I don’t know. I have no idea what to think or say. My next post is going to be about the cuteness of fluffy kittens. Pro or con?

  10. 10
    littleirishperson

    Are there really people out there having bad oral sex. being irish it is the only legal contraception we are allowed and having the gift of the gab….

  11. 11
    Anonymous

    Great post. I am not a gung-ho military adventurist by any stretch (though it would be funny to see me try), but there comes a time – every once in a while – when real emergencies arise and we have to get involved. Or at least demonstrate that we have that capability. But Iraq has us so completely committed that we will have to start drafting for the Merchant Marines and the League of Women Voters to get any troops-(drum crash)- But seriously…
    Like your blog,
    Dave

  12. 12
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  13. 13
    Nick Matyas

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