The US media love to hype US government war threats

One thing the US media loves to do is hype the threat of wars, even highly dangerous ones with the potential use of nuclear weapons such as in the long-standing dispute between North Korea and the US. I am not accusing them of actually wanting to see the outbreak of nuclear war because that would be truly insane but they tend to talk of the situation as one of being on the brink of such a war with no solution in sight, even though there has been one for a long time.

One way they do that is by portraying the North Korean leadership as totally irrational and intransigent and unwilling to negotiate when actually the opposite is true, that it is the US that has spurned the one option that could de-escalate the conflict. Jon Schwarz gives an example of this behavior, saying that you would never guess from the way that the Washington Post editorializes about the dispute, despite the fact that the North Korean leadership has been very clear about what they seek.

So as a quasi-normal person, I recommend you pay close attention to this, from a recent column by the Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Jackson Diehl, about North Korea:

[North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un] has shown no interest in talks — he won’t even set foot in China, his biggest patron. Even if negotiations took place, the current regime has made clear that “it will never place its self-defensive nuclear deterrence on the negotiating table,” as one envoy recently put it. [emphasis added]

This is what the envoy, North Korea’s Deputy UN Ambassador Kim In Ryong, actually said, according to a transcript from North Korea’s UN Mission quoted in the AP article:

As long as the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat continue [emphasis added], the DPRK, no matter who may say what, will never place its self-defensive nuclear deterrence on the negotiation table or flinch an inch from the road chosen by itself, the road of bolstering up the state nuclear force.”

There’s of course a significant difference between North Korea saying it will never negotiate to halt or eliminate its nuclear weapons program, and that it will never negotiate as long as the U.S. continues to threaten it.

Moreover, many North Korean officials, including Kim himself, have used precisely this formulation over and over again since July 4, when North Korea launched what appeared to be its first genuine intercontinental ballistic missile.

What the US does is constantly threaten North Korea with military action in which “all options are on the table” and conduct military exercises in the region aimed at North Korea, both alone and jointly with South Korea. Furthermore, the US refuses to state that it will not initiate a conflict with North Korea or invade it. Making such a statement and stopping the military activities would be a good start to defuse tensions and little would be lost by doing so.

So does North Korea’s current rhetoric mean it would ever agree to halt, roll back, or even eliminate its nuclear weapons program? If they did agree to it, would they follow through? North Korea observers disagree on the likelihood of this.

But it does in fact matter that debates among foreign policy elites in the pages of the Post and elsewhere be based in reality. The reality is that North Korea is saying that, under certain conditions, it will put its nuclear weapons on the table.

But of course the US reserves the right to invade any country anywhere in the world and sees any defensive actions by threatened countries as offensive ones.

Max Blumenthal looks at the performance of one journalist Jake Tapper who is being portrayed as one of Donald Trump’s most vehement critics.

However, as Trump transitions from a non-interventionist campaign platform to a crudely militaristic foreign policy, Tapper has not only let the president off the hook, he has played a central role in cultivating pro-war fever among the American public. I watched each episode of Tapper’s “The Lead” from August 1-10, as the North Korea crisis came to a head, as well as 14 editions of his show between April and July. Only two shows proceeded without an extended segment promoting regime change and expanded sanctions or hyping threats from North Korean ICBMs and Russian hackers.

Tapper has covered the Saudi-U.S. war on Yemen only twice, which was sadly two times more than many of his colleagues. He has not touched the Israeli-manufactured humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza all year. Yet Tapper seldom misses an opportunity to hammer one of a small cast of designated enemies, including the governments of North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela, and with just enough space to push sanctions on China as well. His international coverage seldom extends beyond the countries in Washington’s crosshairs.

It is Vladimir Putin and the Chinese who are trying to bring some sanity to the discussion and warning that US threats are not productive.

Putin repeated his assertion that sanctions and pressure won’t be enough to rein in North Korea.
“Do not succumb to emotions and drive North Korea into a corner. Now more than ever, everyone needs to be calm and avoid steps that lead to an escalation of tension,” Putin said.

Without the political and diplomatic tools, it is extremely difficult to move the situation around. And to be more precise, I think it is impossible at all,” he added.

Donald Trump and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley seem to be competing to see who can use the most belligerent language about North Korea, ratcheting it up to 11. The danger is that making threats and not being able to carry them out makes you look weak and Trump is just the kind of insecure person who will go to extreme lengths to prove to himself that he is not weak. Paul Waldman explains that Trump making threats that he cannot carry out are the signs of his weakness.

President Trump is demonstrating that you can be obsessed with the idea of strength and go to absurd lengths to show you have it, but just wind up proving that you’re weaker than anyone thought.

This weekend, North Korea detonated what may have been a hydrogen bomb, a follow-up to a series of tests seeming to show that they could reach the United States mainland with a missile. They seem completely undeterred by a regular stream of taunts and threats from President Trump, who among other things promised just before taking office that they wouldn’t be able to do what they’ve now demonstrated they probably can. It’s almost as though they don’t take him seriously.

Not only that, Kim Jong Un was not deterred when back in April, Vice President Mike Pence went to the DMZ and made a stern face across the border to show them we mean business. That sounds like something out of a comic satire, but it actually happened. “I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face,” Pence said afterward.

Then Sunday, Trump tweeted that he was considering “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.” Really? The value of U.S. trade with China alone was $648 billion in 2016. We’re just going to cut that off? And they’re hardly the only country that trades with North Korea.

This threat was so preposterous that no one took it seriously for an instant—not here at home, and not anywhere in the world. It was only the latest in a series of empty threats that neither Kim nor anyone else believed.

The latest Korean nuclear test suggests that Kim doesn’t actually respect President Trump, or more particularly, isn’t afraid of him. And wasn’t that the whole point?

It is a sad state of affairs when people are hoping that the military people surrounding Trump may be able to prevent him from doing stupid things instead of just saying stupid things.


  1. says

    Remember that the US and N Korea also had a treaty back in the day, which the US decided to renege on because the N Koreans were part of the “axis of evil” and therefore incapable of living up to their treaty obligations. Oddly, when the US reneged on the treaty, the N Koreans started developing nuclear weapons and even -- quite properly -- withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. How shockingly intransigent of them!

    The other bit of reporting that the US media consistently gets wrong is the order in which things happen. The US and S Korea practice “decapitation strike” drills and military maneuvers simulating an attack on N Korea, and the N Koreans respond by demonstrating they have a deterrent capability. If you look at the calendars it’s pretty clear that’s what’s going on. If you look at the calendars it’s also pretty clear that the US DoD is driving the schedules, not the S Korean or US political leadership. In other words, the US military is trying to start a war and the N Koreans are trying to wave them off. But the US lapdog press report it differently because apparently they are too lazy to look at a calendar.

  2. jrkrideau says

    Why do I hear “Bagdad, Bagdad” in the background?

    Oh yes, the buildup to the Iraq invasion when the US cheerleading section dropped any pretense of reporting and turned itself into a propaganda tool for whom no fantasy was too wild.

    I would say that Nikki Haley in that CNN link sums up the situation very well (taken out of context ), “When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that.”

    I’d say this seems to express North Korea’s situation quite well. When you have an unstable idiot in the White House and other mad warmongers infesting the US political and military landscape threatening military action against Venezuela because
    … well, just because, it is hard to see why North Korea would want to unilaterally disarm or stand down its forces.

  3. says

    North Korea, despite what the talking heads keep spouting, is not “crazy”. They can see what happened when Iraq and Libya gave up any attempts at nuclear programs. They can see that despite Iran abiding by the recent agreement, there has been talk from two administrations now of them abiding by the “letter but not the spirit” of the agreement and the American hawks who still want to invade.

    For decades now, the US has been described as “the world’s police force” and they are certainly acting that way. Anyone who doesn’t acquiesce immediately to their authority is a threat that must be taken care of, and even then some people need to be taken down just to show the world who’s boss.

    … with just enough space to push sanctions on China as well.

    It’s one thing to put sanctions on Russia -- and how is that working out? -- but a whole other thing with China. The post already mentions how much trade the US does with China, so sanctions are likely to hurt US business interests just as hard, and China’s been working to increase its influence around the world just as the USA’s is crashing fast. I don’t see trying to push the Chinese around ending well for the Americans.

  4. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#4:
    It’s one thing to put sanctions on Russia – and how is that working out? – but a whole other thing with China.

    The Chinese, to be fair, have at least remained polite. They haven’t dumped the dollar as the world’s currency, or sold off their holdings in US debt -- because -- unlike the US’ oligarchs, they understand that such blustering is bad for business.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ Marcus
    That sounds like something Voltaire would say.
    I think it’s been attributed to him but as far as I have been able to track it, it seems to have originated in the middle of the 19th C with a traveler turned (not very successful) impresario trying to dramatize his adventures.

    The audience, and possibly all of Paris, laughed themselves silly .

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