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Bad News on the US-Korea Front

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By Stefan Krasowski [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

My colleague, Victor Cha, argues in the Washington Post that a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea is a very bad idea.

Under normal circumstances, this would be notable for a number of reasons. Victor’s one of the country’s leading experts on Northeast Asian security. He was an official in George W. Bush’s National Security Council. And he’s on the ‘hawkish’ side of the spectrum when it comes to US policy toward North Korea.

But nothing is ever normal with the Trump administration. Today, multiple sources reported that, after an already interminable delay, the Trump administration has withdrawn Victor’s nomination as ambassador to South Korea.

The White House’s original choice for U.S. ambassador to South Korea is no longer expected to be nominated after he privately expressed disagreement in late December with the Trump administration’s North Korea policy, according to people familiar with the matter.

Victor D. Cha, an academic who served in the George W. Bush administration, raised his concerns with National Security Council officials over their consideration of a limited strike on the North aimed at sending a message without sparking a wider war — a risky concept known as a “bloody nose” strategy.

Cha also objected to the administration’s threats to tear up a bilateral trade deal with Seoul that President Trump has called unfair to American companies. The administration last week imposed new tariffs on imports of washing machines and solar energy panels, a move criticized by the South Korean government.

The Financial Time report is even more disquieting (via).

According to the two people familiar with the discussions between Mr Cha and the White House, he was asked by officials whether he was prepared to help manage the evacuation of American citizens from South Korea — an operation known as non-combatant evacuation operations — that would almost certainly be implemented before any military strike. The two people said Mr Cha, who is seen as on the hawkish side of the spectrum on North Korea, had expressed his reservations about any kind of military strike.

This news, in Anna Fifield’s words, “is causing shock-waves in South Korea this morning.” The general reaction in my community is horror. Not only is Victor a true professional and patriot, but he brought crucial expertise and experience to the job. So this is more evidence of the dysfunction that is the Trump administration. But it’s also leading people to wonder if they’ve underestimated the chances of war on the Korean peninsula.

…. also, apparently, Trump’s State of the Union talked about North Korea much like George W. Bush talked about Iraq in 2002 and 2003.
Now, ratcheting up the rhetoric is exactly what you’d expect as part of a compellence posture that fell short of the use of force, but, much like the convergence of Trump-Russia developments yesterday, this all feels… worrisome.

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