Republican senator Lindsay Graham noted on the Today show that Kim Jong Un is nearly capable of placing a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile and hitting the United States with it, and America can’t allow such a “madman” to get to that point, at whatever cost to non-Americans.
“If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And [Trump’s] told me that to my face,” Graham said. “That may be provocative, but not really. When you’re president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States.”
If the U.S. military were to strike North Korea for the reasons Graham mentioned, it would be the result of a calculation that sparking a real conflict in East Asia is preferable to accepting a theoretical threat to the United States–that it’s worth risking the actual deaths of those living in and near North Korea, including American expats and troops stationed in Japan and South Korea, to avert the potential deaths of Americans at home.
When I surveyed experts this spring, they predicted that whatever form U.S. strikes against North Korea take, they could result in thousands or even millions of deaths–as the North Koreans retaliate with conventional, chemical, and perhaps nuclear weapons, and the United States and its allies respond in kind, dragging the region into a spiral of conflict. The vast range of the casualty estimates spoke to just how much unknown risk U.S. military planners would be assuming.
Graham is advocating “preventive strikes,” which differ from “preemptive strikes” in that they would not be a response to imminent attack by North Korea. … He’s suggesting that the U.S. military neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat so Kim never has the ability to nuke California.
When members of the Trump administration publicly discuss military options against North Korea, they typically describe them in preventive terms. It’s not surprising that a hawk like Lindsey Graham would characterize the president’s views that way. But you don’t have to take his word for it. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national-security adviser, has staked out a similar position. In April, he said it would be unacceptable for the North Korean government to obtain nuclear weapons that can reach the United States, even if that entails taking military action that would produce “human catastrophe” in South Korea. In July, Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, engaged in the same grim calculus.
The Trump administration may simply be talking tough to spook North Korea and its ally, China, into making concessions. …But what happens if North Korea calls America’s bluff?