Doug Thompson: Lessons we learned, or should have

How about U.S. looking before it leaps this time?

"I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach the last time I was there."

-- Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951, during Senate hearings about the Korean War.

The two Koreas have more than three times as many people living there now as when MacArthur said that.

Our rear ends aren't the only ones on the line in our standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons. Ours are not even very high on the list, except, of course, for those attached to our people in Guam or South Korea, mainly service people. They are facing risks for the rest of us.

A lot of people's lives depend on decisions are about to make. We should not repeat the mistakes of 2003. An evil dictator has weapons of mass destruction. He really does this time. Even if we can and should eliminate the threat right now, this time we should look at the likely consequences and risks first.

This time, the evil dictator is not alone. He has a protector. The trick in a war with North Korea, as MacArthur found out, is to not trigger war with China.

But China's economy depends on us, some argue. Others say the Chinese do not want a nuke-armed North Korea either. Two things. First, the economic stranglehold is mutual. The Chinese hold much of our national debt, for instance. Second and much more important, even if China does not want a North Korea with nukes, it wants a crushed North Korea even less.

China went to war with us in 1950 to save North Korea. This was after China suffered through the "warlord" period of the 1920s, a civil war, then a genocidal war with Japan, then a renewed civil war ending in 1949. Then what was left went right into war with the world's top superpower rather than let forces led by the United States destroy North Korea.

China does not want a U.S.-allied South Korea filling the vacuum left by a gutted North Korea. That has not changed. The North Koreans will never greet us as liberators. Even if they wanted to, the Chinese would not let them.

As for "surgical strikes" and so forth, consider the Koreans themselves, north and south. After all, it is their countries we are thinking of making a war zone. Of course I am not OK with a tin horn dictator having nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and perhaps California. I am just not indifferent to the fact he also has artillery that can hit Seoul, a city of 10 million people. As mentioned earlier, he really does have weapons of mass destruction.

The refugee crisis destabilizing the Middle East and Europe comes from Syria, a nation of just over 20 million people at its peak. The two Koreas have a total of more than 76 million. And it is not as if Koreans can drive to Turkey or Lebanon, either. The North Koreans will flood China. The South Koreans have nowhere to go unless they go by sea. They certainly will not be welcome in Japan, a country more paranoid about foreigners than we are. So, how many million Korean refugees are we willing to accept?

Also, our military is overextended and worn out already. We have been using them up since the last time we started a quick, surgical campaign to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. That started 14 years ago. We still have more war than we are willing to pay for.

We are poorer, bloodied, divided against each other and wretchedly led. The troops cannot do everything. They win wars. But it is up to our leaders to clinch the peace, or victory goes to waste. This administration cannot get through a normal work day without self-inflicted turmoil. I appreciate Gens. John Kelly, James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, but they are barely managing to keep this administration between the ditches.

I am not saying we should clutch our pearls and let North Korea keep nuclear weapons. I am saying we should not expect the military option to be quick, easy, clean, cheap or satisfactory. If we decide on war rather than on reaching a consensus and cooperating with China, South Korea, Japan and, yes, Russia, too, then that decision should be based on the way things are, not the way we dream about. We have no excuse for not knowing better.

Commentary on 08/12/2017

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