Wilkerson: Don’t Trust Trump, Bolton to Deliver US-North Korea Peace

Yves here. This Real News Network interview of Lawrence Wilkerson by Aaron Mate was intriguing by virtue of the frequency with which Mate pushed back against Wilkerson’s arguments.

On the one hand, it’s not hard to agree with the notion that Trump didn’t have much of a plan regarding North Korea, and as a result Kim Jong Un came out of the talks better than Trump did. But most commentators had and continue to have low expectations that discussions with North Korea would yield much. And even though Kim Jong Un allegedly gained “legitimacy,” I’m not sure that that is worth much, considering how much good that did for Gaddafi. Regardless of the latest stage of international theater, North Korea depends on China. Kim Jong Un was summoned to Beijing before and after the talks. It is conceivable that China thought that by stage managing Kim Jong Un, it might get Trump to moderate his trade demands.

On the other, Wilkerson seems unwilling to factor in that 2018 is not 2006. As we pointed out, North Korea has greatly improved its ballistic missiles. It may be capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the US mainland. That puts North Korea in a better bargaining position than in the past.

Perhaps the biggest source of the divergence between Wilkerson and Mate came at the end, when Wilkerson depicted Korea as a success because it has been at peace for over 50 years. I don’t see how you reconcile that with the fact the two sides have never agreed to officially end the war, and the US has (until the Trump forbearance) staged provocative war games aimed at North Korea (as well as China). I was only in Seoul once, over 20 years ago, and I can’t imagine things have changed much. I went to Tel Aviv on the same set of trips, and the airport security levels were night and day. In Seoul, passengers and their bags had to go through screening (metal detectors were the bare minimum) to enter the country, and the airport and airport approaches and entry points were heavily manned by soldiers carrying machine guns.

Mind you, I’m not disagreeing with Wilkerson’s bottom line, that from Trump’s perspective, the Singapore summit was a PR event. But I was surprised at many of his other comments, and welcome reader input.

AARON MATE:It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

At the Singapore summit last week, President Trump announced he would suspend U.S. war games on the Korean peninsula. Now the Pentagon has followed through, canceling a major military exercise set for August. Speaking to Fox News, National Security Adviser John Bolton said North Korea now faces a decisive and dramatic choice to give up nuclear weapons.

JOHN BOLTON:The President made it very clear to Kim Jong-un, he faces a decisive, a dramatic choice; whether after decades of development, North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons program, its chemical and biological weapons, its ballistic missiles, and turn away from from that approach to international relations. And if it does, can have a very different future. If it doesn’t-.

SPEAKER:What do you think? Did they indicate to you, John, that they were willing to do this, for the first time in your career?

JOHN BOLTON:Well, they’ve said they would do it, and I think now we’ll see Secretary Mike Pompeo and others meeting with them, discussing it with them. And we’ll find out soon enough, I think, whether they’ve made this strategic decision.

AARON MATE:Now, that Fox News host’s question about North Korea being willing to give up nuclear weapons for the first time was based on a false premise. In talks with the Bush administration, which Bolton served under, North Korea in 2006 agreed to abandon, quote, all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, unquote, and also allow for international inspections. But it was the Bush administration, including Bolton, that effectively killed that agreement.

Now for Singapore the two sides are trying again. As part of that process, the U.S. says it has identified the first North Korean test site that Kim Jong-un has committed to destroy. Defense Secretary James Mattis will visit South Korea next week for talks with his South Korean counterpart.

Joining me is Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. He is the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Welcome, Colonel. Your assessment of the prospects for this process coming to a resolution and seeing North Korea denuclearize? Do you think it’s going to happen?

LARRY WILKERSON:The interview clip you just gave was fascinating, hearing John Bolton add chemical and biological weapons to what heretofore, as far as I know, has been strictly nuclear program and ballistic missiles associated therewith, was very fascinating. Because there is no way on this earth that Kim Jong-Un, or any Kim dynasty member, is going to give up all of this. They would be foolish to do so, because they still have a security problem. That security problem includes Japan, China, and South Korea.

So what happened in Singapore was show. It was pure reality TV show. It’s what Donald Trump excels in. But unfortunately for America, and for China and for Japan, and others, too, possibly, South Korea most prominently, it was a show that probably won’t produce anything but just what Trump wanted it to produce for the moment, and that is to get his name in the klieg lights and to look like he was doing something positive. Who won this so far is North Korea, clearly. They have given up absolutely nothing; promised only words, which, as you showed, they did in the 2000s; and they have gained quite a bit to include a cessation of military exercises by South Korea and the United States on the peninsula. And, most importantly, what Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father, and now Kim Jong-un himself have sought desperately and now have: international recognition, signalled most dramatically by sitting down in Singapore with a U.S. President.

Kim has already made three trips to China, so China is already relaxing its sanctions. We have got nothing, and North Korea has gotten a great deal. That’s what I’ve seen so far.

AARON MATE:Colonel, Colonel, I’m surprised to hear this take from you, because you’ve long been a critic of the U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula, including these war games, which Trump called provocative and which have now been suspended. But they’ve only been suspended temporarily. Trump has said that if there’s no progress he can immediately resume them. And to say that North Korea offered nothing, I mean, even before the summit they released hostages. They suspended tests. They also destroyed a certain facility. Now, the, the magnitude of that move has been debated. But you know, some have viewed it as being significant. And now, again just this week, as I said in the intro, North Korea has, according to U.S. officials, has identified the site that it will, the nuclear testing site, which is related to ballistic missiles, that it will destroy.

LARRY WILKERSON:It had already destroyed the site itself. Self-immolation, if you will. All it was doing was using that as a chip in what it considered the preliminary negotiations, which is what North Korea loves to do. It also destroyed Yongbyon, you will recall; its most dangerous, because it was a plutonium producer and reprocessing facility in the 2000s. That didn’t deter its development of nuclear weapons one whit. It still developed nuclear weapons that it now has. It still developed ballistic missiles that it now has.

These are all ceremonial moves by North Korea. And I might add, I might add very importantly, I think, these are moves programmed well in advance by North Korea, unlike the moves of the U.S. administration which are dreamed up out of Trump’s mind moments before he sits down and begins to talk. Just talk to the people from the White House who will tell you that they had to scramble murderously post-Trump announcement of the summit to even began to try and put a package together, and then had great difficulty doing it as they approached the actual date of the summit.

So North Korea has scripted all of these steps. They were going to take the steps anyway, or they are steps that are innocuous to them in terms of their strategic objectives. So North Korea has won everything up to this point. And to your original point about my position on the peninsula, that has nothing to do with negotiations. If you are going to sit down and we’re going to negotiate from the position, from the foundation that Trump created by his bellicose remarks and his other rather undiplomatic statements and so forth, then you better come to that thing and begin to win from the very start, because you don’t have much distance to go, while North Korea, as it has proven many times in the past, has lots of distance to cover, and lots of things to do in that distance. You look like a fool every time North Korea winds up not doing what you asked them to do, or put something ceremonial forth rather than something substantive. And you look even more like a fool when you put substantive things forth that North Korea has wanted for some time.

I’m really worried about this process having no real strategic rationale behind it other than, and this is a frightening prospect, other than they want to get to the point where North Korea does do something that’s readily identifiable as deal-stopping. And then we have an impasse where Trump has no other alternative but to say, well, we’re back where we were before. And where we were before was very close to war.

AARON MATE:OK. You know-. But I guess where I might differ from you here, though, is this notion that the status quo anti is preferable to Trump being a whimsical dealmaker here, as strange as that sounds. Because in this case, because-.

LARRY WILKERSON:You’re not getting my point, Aaron. My point is that we’ve been here before, first. Second, Kim really knows how to go here, and how to move out from here. And third, what we have done to this point is change a strategy that Trump liked to call strategic patience, that like to call keeping the peace, or containment, if you will, that did not allow for war for over half a century, from 1953 to the day that Trump was inaugurated. Trump has majorly altered that strategic approach to the Korean peninsula, first by bellicose, almost idiotic and moronic, psychopathic, even, statements about Kim Jong-un and about the situation there, and now by using that leverage, if that’s indeed what it has gained, to go to a summit in Singapore and do something no other president has ever done, though Bill Clinton got very, very close to it.

That’s only fortuitous for the United States if there is a strategy for followup that actually produces peace on the peninsula. Peace, Aaron, that we’ve had for over half a century. We’re in, we’re jeopardizing that peace right now if there’s not a strategy, if what we’re going to do is move down the road to a place where Kim finally has to be called out, reveals that he’s never going to get rid of the weapons, let alone his chemical and biological, never going to stop ballistic missile development, resumes all those things in a way that’s blatant, and we don’t have any choice but to go to war.

AARON MATE:OK. But what you call peace I think is misleading, because there never was an official end to the Korean War. There was an-. There was an armistice. And so, and so the U.S. never would have been-. Had been officially, had been officially-. Colonel, if I could just finish my question. The U.S. and North Korea have been officially at war for decades. That’s seen the rise of the U.S. nuclear presence on the peninsula, and also these military exercises. All this prompted North Korea to develop a nuclear weapons program they didn’t have before.

LARRY WILKERSON:All this kept the peace, too.

AARON MATE:Well, but, but peace, you’ll agree, was a very dangerous situation. And so now you have Trump breaking with the Washington playbook, meeting with North Korea, freezing military exercises, which I know you favored before.


AARON MATE:I don’t see, I don’t get why that is as troubling. And by the way, the foundation on which this is taking place in terms of concessions on both sides is not just a foundation built by Trump. There’s also a foundation, I think, from the North Koreans’ point of view, which should be noted. Which is that A, you know, decades ago the U.S. destroyed a large part of the country with a massive bombing, killing a sizable proportion of the population. Then you have the nuclear buildup. Then you have this deal under the Bush administration where, you know, there was a chance there of a real, of real progress. The U.S. was supposed to help provide a light water reactor. It reneged on that and killed the agreement, and reimposed sanctions.

So North Korea is coming from a place-. It’s not a blank slate. They’re coming from a place of mistrust. So if the U.S., to show some goodwill and just temporarily suspend some war games, I don’t see why that’s a bad thing.

LARRY WILKERSON:Well, I don’t see it’s a bad thing, either. I just don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. You have trust, you have reliance in this administration, Aaron, that I simply do not have, period.

AARON MATE:Well, I certainly don’t trust this administration, but I certainly trust Trump’s-. Or I have more faith in Trump at least wanting the the public relations win of peace, which he seems to at least be trying for here, hopefully winning out over people like John Bolton, who have long tried to undermine peace.

LARRY WILKERSON:There’s another principle, if you will, operating here, though, that is underlying all of this. And it’s covered in Michael Glennon’s book about the national security state and double government. There is an element within the U.S. institutional architecture that simply does not, one, want to leave the peninsula. Two-. And it has strategic reasons for that. It has nothing to do with North Korea. It has everything to do with China, and the defense of Japan, and the military industrial complex, and the four-star position for the Army on the Korean peninsula. All that bureaucratic reason for staying is operating.

Second, I’m not so sure that that bureaucratic reason operating the way it is wouldn’t welcome some sort of fracas on the peninsula more that it would the ousting of the United States permanently from the peninsula. This is something that Trump is completely unaware of. And even John Bolton, as I know from my own conversations with the man, is not cognizant of to the extent that he should be, and disregards to an alarming sense. So there are so many other things operating here, including, I haven’t even mentioned the interests of Prime Minister Abe, and ultimately the Japanese Self Defense Forces, and ultimately Beijing, as well.

There’s so much operating here that Trump and his team seem to be utterly ignorant of as they seek simply TV highlights that it’s very disturbing to see what’s happening and understand all this as backdrop. All I’m saying is yes, there are some moves here of which I’ve been in favor for a long time, including ultimately, perhaps, a diminution of if not outright withdrawal from the U.S. presence in Korea. But that’s something that’s got to be done very carefully, and in concert with our allies, for instance with Japan and South Korea.

I don’t see that happening here, and I know John Bolton very, very well. I don’t see it happening, I don’t see John being in favor of it. And just him throwing out chemical and biologicals, which I haven’t even heard before, means that he’s well beyond Trump on what he wants from the North Koreans. And I know the North Koreans. They are not going to give up any of these things. So where are we six months down the road when it becomes clear that they’re not going to do so, and yet we’re still standing there demanding irretrievable, confirmable, reliable, you know, all the things that we have said and Bolton just added to in terms of what Kim has to surrender in order to meet our demands?

AARON MATE:OK. In terms of our allies, let me ask you a question, though. You mentioned the need to work with Japan and South Korea. But isn’t that not a contradiction? Because, you know, certainly South Korea has favored this process. The government is the one that spearheaded it. And-.

LARRY WILKERSON:The government in power right now.

AARON MATE:Right. And the majority, and the majority the people support it. Japan, though, the government there feels very differently. Japan, at least from the way I see it, has been, has been, not been so supportive of this process, and maybe trying to undermine it.

LARRY WILKERSON:I think it’s more complex than that. I think Prime Minister Abe and the LDP in particular, and to a certain extent the Japanese elite, if you will, are looking at this with real concern. First, because they liked Trump in the beginning. They always like Republicans, and they always warm the bellicosity if it’s aimed at their purpose and their interests. But now they’re having some concerns, some deep concerns. They’re even hedging their bets. I would be willing to guarantee you that there is a plan right now on Abe’s desk for a fully nuclear power called Japan, and that they’re looking hard at it.

They’re very concerned about what they see as less than strategic operations by the United States from this administration vis-a-vis North Korea, and for that matter vis-a-vis China. Let’s just look at what’s happening right now in that regard alone, this narrow little regard which is nonetheless important. China has already started back off its enforcement of the sanctions against North Korea, and nothing really has happened except the meeting. So what’s happening with this third visit of Kim to Beijing? I guarantee you China is consorting, consulting with Kim about what they’re going to do further on, and all this trade business right now is disincentivizing China in some really major ways to be cooperative with the U.S. versus being cooperative with Kim, or moreso with Kim than the U.S.

So it looks like an absolutely uncoordinated approach to the problem, whether you’re looking at the alienating trade practices almost amounting to a trade war, or you’re looking at the lack of substance from the Singapore summit. I’m just alarmed that we’re going to go down this road and get to some juncture where Trump is going to be desperate and he’s going to have to regain some ground, and he’s going to do that by returning to the more bellicose policies that he commenced this thing with.

AARON MATE:I take your point. And it’s a really interesting way to look at it. It’s, in this time of shifting stances where you have Democrats leading the charge against the prospects for peace and opposing the suspension of war games, and Trump trying to paint itself as a peacemaker, it’s a bizarre time. And we really appreciate-.

LARRY WILKERSON:You put your finger on something that just appalls me with the Democrats out there. You know, maybe you interpreted my position that way initially. But I’m not like the Democrats who say let’s don’t have peace simply because it’s politically unpalatable for me, for this Republican to have peace. I’m all for peace. I just don’t see the kind of expertise and genius being exercised here that might bring it.

AARON MATE:On that we’ll leave it there. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thank you.

LARRY WILKERSON:Thanks for having me.

AARON MATE:And thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    First off, I think Wilkerson is entirely right to focus on the ‘other’ elements of the political balance in the region – there is a tendency to focus on the Trump and Kim show, while forgetting that there are plenty of very active, concerned powers, not least Russia, China and Japan, all of whom have their own strategic objectives and the resources to follow up. To them, the US is a temporary interloper in a dynamic dating back thousands of years, and Kim just one of many annoying local warlords who has acted as a thorn in the side of the greater power players.

    He does, though, go way too far in ascribing ’50 years of peace’ to the current balance. There has never been peace there – its been a constant cold war, with literally hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people dying in north and south Korea in purges, slaughters, concentration camps and famines on both sides of the border since the ‘end’ of the Korean War. What the DPRK wants – and likely so do China, Japan, and SK too, is a de-escalation of the Cold War, all for their own reasons. Although arguably, the current balance favours Japan more, as it benefits from the division of an ancient historic foe. Of all the countries there, Japan probably benefits most from the US presence and could potentially play the most malign role if it feels it is going to lose out strategically in a new realignment.

    I think he also makes an interesting point that there are strong interests within the US military to maintain their South Korean bases, and that some elements would not hesitate to engage in independent action to stymie any deal which would see the US retreating. They may well be supported by elements of the right wing in both South Korean and Japanese politics.

    I do think that the Trump administration has a plan of sorts – they want Korea off the table so they can focus on Iran. Even a lunatic like Bolton probably realises the US cannot afford two simultaneous regional wars. So they don’t really care if a deal is not sustainable in the long run, so long as they can pretend they have a deal for the next 5 years or so.

    His comments on Japan are interesting – Abe represents a very nationalistic and far right element in Japanese politics. He is part of a faction that sees Japan as benefiting from being under the US umbrella, but would not hesitate to push for full militarisation of Japan if they see it as necessary. Japan could almost certainly go nuclear within 6 months of deciding to do so. And like most Japanese nationalists, he quite likely has a visceral dislike of Koreans, and they know it. Its perhaps fortunate that his political situation in Japan is getting weaker by the day.

    I would disagree though about saying that a ‘deal’ involving denuclearisation is impossible to maintain. There are plenty of precedents for deals which involve countries making move for aspirational aims which everyone knows will never happen. It just means setting up layers of bureaucracy endlessly examining options for monitoring and compliance without actually doing anything (Northern Irish politicians could offer plenty of advice on that sort of strategy).

    Final point: I think from the perspective of China and South Korea, and maybe Japan, the ‘ideal’ outcome is for the DPRK to become like Vietnam or Laos – autocratic states which gradually open up to investment, keeping capital happy by providing investment opportunities, while not rocking the boat geopolitically. I suspect that this is what Kim wants too. An sustainable deal would involve meaningless aspirations towards denuclearisation and re unification while the DPRK rolls back its huge military expenditure (which is crippling it financially), while slowly opening up to Chinese, South Korean and maybe Japanese investment. The best thing the US can do is not interfere while the local parties slowly but surely inch their way to this endpoint. Ironically, Trump may be the best hope for achieving this. The real problem may well be elements within the US military and the South Korean and Japanese right wing establishments sabotaging progress.

    1. vidimi

      i agree with this and i’ll add that any de-escalation and easing of sanctions is a huge positive for the people of north korea who will benefit from a massive (for them) increase in quality of life. the big thing to remember is that this really isn’t about the united states. it is about the two koreas, who want to get on with it and improve their relations and gradually integrate more. even if the north keeps their nukes, that doesn’t necessarily make them dangerous. they’re only dangerous if their backs are against the wall; i.e. only america’s constant threat makes them dangerous.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I think that I agree with most of your points, PK, with some differences. Larry Wilkinson appears to see the whole Korean situation as a zero-sum game in which for someone to win, someone else must lose. Three guesses who he wants to be the loser here and I think that it is driving him nuts that he sees the US as the loser. He may have been dishonest over a few points too such as when he said that North Korea does have a security problem that includes Japan, China, and South Korea but last time I looked none of those three are flying nuclear-capable bombers up to North Korea’s borders.

    He also mentions that the North Koreans destroyed Yongbyon, a plutonium producer and reprocessing facility in the 2000s but that it “didn’t deter its development of nuclear weapons one whit”. What he forgot to mention was the fact that the US never fulfilled its part of the agreement and then reneged totally under George Bush. It would be interesting to see where the Korean peninsular would be if that agreement had been kept.

    His final point was that “I just don’t see the kind of expertise and genius being exercised here that might bring it”. The Korean War armistice was signed 65 years ago next month and all that “expertise and genius” in that time has produced what? A cold war that constantly threatens to turn hot at any time. Is Trump an amateur? Absolutely. So what. I repeat, so what. If what he does works then who cares?

    I have a favourite saying by Erwin Rommel when he said: “A risk is a chance you take; if it fails you can recover. A gamble is a chance taken; if it fails, recovery is impossible.” Trump is taking a risk, not a gamble. If it works, then it removes a world trouble spot. Rommel also talked about trying to get every successful event that you can and then following up each success with more successes and so forth.

    Look at the successes – hostages released, nuclear development shut down, provocative war exercises shut down, the nuclear site destroyed, talks between north and South Korea, US war dead returned, the possibility of Korean families reunited, and other developments as well. If these small success are followed up with more and more success until North Korea becomes more like a normal country then I do not care who did it or how it was done so long as it was done. And if Trump proves to be the initiator of all this happening then I’ll gladly nominate the sob for a Nobel Peace Prize myself.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      And if Trump proves to be the initiator of all this happening then I’ll gladly nominate the sob for a Nobel Peace Prize myself.

      I’ll second the nomination. (That’ll really make it official :-) )

    2. loblolly

      Well said. Every day I hear the punditoctlracy exclaim, “but that’s just not how it’s done!” with the derisive tone so often taken by our “betters”.

      Yeah, you had 60 years. Whatever laurels you were resting on, are dust at this point.

  3. David

    Agreed. There are problems to which there is no obvious short or medium term solution (Korea is one) and states have a choice about which posture they adopt towards them. Good examples of sensible postures are Gibraltar and the Falklands/Malvinas, where there is no obvious solution, but that doesn’t not stop the countries concerned from cooperating and having normal relations. War or even serious political conflict has been tacitly ruled out. The Singapore talks may achieve the same effect, of turning down the political amplifier from 11 to about 4 or 5. There will still be tensions, but the US will recognise that NK exists (they may even open an Embassy) while NK will become more integrated and less paranoid. It is not a zero-sum game, therefore. I agree the present situation is not really stable – visiting the Armistice site at Panmunjom was one of the weirdest experiences of my life – and it’s luck as much as anything that has preserved the peace. Even if NK has “won” in some sense, that doesn’t mean others have lost. It has achieved some of its political objectives, including greater recognition internationally, and that can only be stabilising.

  4. Expat

    I agree with Wilkerson’s premise that the US cannot be trusted and that Trump above all cannot be trusted. Bolton wants their nukes, their germs, and their chemicals. He will convince Trump of this. Trump will demand them. Then Bolton will tell him we need their guns, tanks, and planes. Trump will demand those. And so on until Trump, listening to himself tell himself that he is the bestest, toughest, yugest negotiator ever, will tell NK that they must surrender completely as they agreed in Singapore and as per the written document which clearly says so. Okay, I got a bit carried away.

    NK was provoked into the war after the US arbitrarily divided their country. The US slaughtered millions of Koreans north and south of the border. The US has lied, cheated,and reneged since Korea was liberated. Why would Kim or any Korea ever trust America? And that goes for South Koreans who also know very well what it feels like to live under the US military/CIA jackboot.

    1. JCC

      I think it’s important to remember/know two historical facts:

      1) The Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38th Parallel by two countries, not one; the USSR and the U.S.A. with strong support from a third Country, the PRC.

      2) The Korean Peninsula, historically, was never “one country” until 1897, although culturally and politically work towards the unification of the Peninsula started around 1860. It had been divided into at least three separate Kingdoms for at least 2000 years, often at war with each other. From 1905 until the end of WWII, that single country was occupied by Japan, so technically as well as realistically, Korea has only been one self-ruled country for 8 years of it’s most recent 2000 year history, those 8 years occurring over 100 years ago and not during the living memory of anyone today.

      Also, most Koreans that I was acquainted with during my two years of living there considered the Americans to be friends, not jack-booted thugs. These people were not uneducated, most had University degrees, a good understanding of politics, and were deeply afraid of the N.K. regime (though not the North Korean people, rather like most non-US citizens when it comes to American people in general).

      That’s not to say that they weren’t propagandized to some degree or that they were against re-unification. but many of my friends there at that time were alive during the Korean War and had far better and more positive memories of the American military than they had of the North Korean military.

      On the other hand, most knew that their own Govt was often not to be trusted. Any sort of social protest by the general population or University students were put down, brutally, by the S.K. Govt. They are not saints either, by any measure.

      1. JCC

        if you’re curious, here is a little history of the South Korean Army in Viet Nam. They were justifiably feared by the NVA and Viet cong and massacres like My Lai look liike small beer compared to what the ROK were capable of.

        For those distrustful of Wikipedia, there are plenty of other sites documenting the ROK Forces before, during, and since Viet Nam. The history of the White Horse Division is particularly interesting.

        Many of the ROK commanding officers were trained by Japan as well as the U.S., so there are very close ties between all three countries, and the ROK Armed Forces are politically very powerful in S.K.

        Stating that they are a tougher-than-nails, no-holds-barred force (internally and externally) would be putting it mildly.

      2. Expat

        Until the 80’s the South Korean Army was under direct US military command. The generals answered to the ranking American in Korea, not their president. The massacres were therefore committed by the US using SK forces. The KCIA was brutal as well. They tortured and killed thousands.

        The division of the peninsula was decided by Dean Rusk and approved afterword by Russia. There was no consideration of Korea sentiment and no desire to work with either moderate Koreans in the South or the victorious guerillas in the North. Instead the US put together a sham government in the South and set up former Japanese collaborators to run the country. hurrah for American democracy!

        It is understandable that North Korea was slightly dismayed at the Americans by this point. Then the US led and controlled forces in the South harassed the North repeatedly, attacking over the border. Finally, with PRC support, the North attacked the South to kick out the occupying Americans.

        I don’t accept your notion that because Korea was not an official country until 1897 that they had not right to self-determination or unification. China was divided and had many cvil wars. Germany was united under Bizmark and then more recently in 1989; do you dismiss Germany’s right to be a unified country because their unified statehood is only a few decades old? I find it distasteful to dismiss the rights of Koreans to be united because they were occupied by the Japanese under one of the most savage, racist and hateful regimes ever known to mankind.

        I don’t advocate NK government or defend its methods, but I also have no defense or excuses for the US governments and policies in Asia (or elsewhere). The problem might not have been entirely created by the US but America sure did everything it could to make it as awful as possible for Koreans in the North and in the South.

        1. JCC

          Not true, I never said that the entire peninsula had no right to self-determination or even inferred it, for that matter.

          My point was that many seem to think that the US deserves sole responsibility for dividing a country that was, for all practical purposes, never united in the first place.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Thanks for your comments and links on the issue – all very interesting. Its a useful corrective to the very US-centric commentary on the region – something both the left and right are guilty of. From the perspective of the smaller countries in Asia such as Korea and Vietnam, the US is a far distant power, one temporarily ascendent, but not, in the very long term, all that significant. For Vietnamese people China is, and always has been, the great strategic competitor, the American War (as they call it) and the French War, and all the other wars of the last century were just nasty distractions. For Koreans, they have forever been stuck between China and Japan, and these dominate their thoughts. If you don’t understand the very long term dynamics of the region, you can’t understand whats happening right now, and the best way to do that is to imagine a world where the US decided to abandon all interests in the western Pacific in the 20th Century. It would look different, but not really as different as many imagine.

    2. paul

      Revisionist history US + Russia split Korea as they split Germany – China + Russia encouraged NK to attack SK and NK almost took the complete Peninsula – making NK the victim may help anti-US sentiment but not useful for solution

  5. DonCoyote

    Whenever a current or former (especially former) member of the Military/Intelligence comes on the news, ask yourself “What part of the MIC is paying him to advocate against peace and for more bombs/missiles/military presence/war?”

    Here, from MSNBC via Jimmy Dore, is a brilliant takedown by Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Admiral Stavridis of why we needed to bomb Syria in response to the (supposed) chemical attack by (supposed) Assad.

    Yes, I don’t trust John Bolton at all, and Trump not much more than that. But those things were true before he went to Korea. As PK said, Wilkerson makes some big assumptions that US troops and war games have been responsible for “keeping the peace”.

    How many billions of dollars have been spent keeping troops in Korea, and how many more billions are spent on these war games? And into whose pocket(s) have those billions gone?

    1. Expat

      If you take away the Korean threat, then you can’t justify the billions spent occupying South Korea. Then it follows that perhaps occupying Japan is a bit passé as well. No way the Pentagon will say goodbye all those lovely golf courses and the near God-like status its generals and admirals have in Japan and Korea. They answer to no one and have more perqs than the most spoiled Wall Street CEO.

      Hot wars and cold wars are great for business when your business is running a big military or supplying it with stuff. Korea has swallowed up hundreds of billions of dollars over the past seventy years. If that money had simply been given to North Korea, we could have saved quite a bit of hassle. Same applies to Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, etc. But no one gets rich when it’s the government handing it out directly.

      1. John Wright

        There was a San Francisco area humor columnist, Art Hoppe, who had a plan for ending the Vietnam war.

        He calculated that it cost 50K USD to kill a Viet Cong solder when dividing the expenditure by the number of reported kills.

        His solution: package up 50,000 dollar bills and “bomb the countryside”.

        As I remember, he said, if the package hits a Viet Cong, it will kill them, if it misses, they will pick it up and be instantly converted to capitalism.

        The approach might be even more effective now as the 50K in Jan 1968 is worth about 370K now.

        Packaged up, these would be even larger/heavier “bombs for capitalism” in North Korea.

  6. JCC

    I lived in Seoul, and worked in multiple areas throughout the country including Panmunjom, as a member of the US Army for a little over two years just before the Olympics were held in South Korea. I visited a few times afterwards as a rep for a small US machine tool manufacturer.

    In a sense, I think Col. Wilkerson’s statement that there has been peace there for the last 50 years is accurate from a soldier’s perspective. Yes, there are flare-ups, and I can’t relate what goes on in the so-called “Demilitarized Zone”, but all-out War has not been an issue.

    Considering all the undercurrents in that region that don’t get a lot of press I think he is also relatively accurate in his assessment that Trump is more or less shooting from the hip here. Personally I think that all this is just more noise, louder than usual, but still noise. I hope for more than just noise, but I’m pessimistic.

    Japan seems to get short shrift in the discussion. Both N. Korea and S. Korea do not like Japan one bit. There are still strong memories of the Japanese Occupation that run through the entire peninsula.

    Based on Korean History courses I took through the Univ. of Maryland while I was residing there as well as what I was told by Korean friends, Japan was pretty brutal, even by US standards and the US treatment of the American Indian population. The Carlisle Barracks/Indian School mentioned a few days ago in some comments at NC was a small experiment compared to Japan’s “experiment” that encompassed the entire Korean Peninsula. Among other historical labels attributed to that era, the “Japanization of Korea” is one commonly used.

    As an example of the animosity between the two, while I was in Seoul the Koreans hosted the first State Visit of a Japanese Leader since the Japanese Occupation. While the Mainstream Press – TV, newspapers, and radio – hailed the visit from the rooftops, the average Korean felt much differently and made no bones about it.

    I witnessed the procession going down a main street from the airport to the center of Seoul, four or five limos surrounded by well over one hundred well-armed Harley Davidson riding police. As the procession passed, I saw what looked like a University Football Game Wave, hundreds of Koreans moving to the edge of the sidewalks on both sides of the street and spitting into the street as the procession passed. This went on for well over the mile view that I had of the scene. I asked the Korean friend I was with, “What’s that all about?” and he spit out one word, “Japanese.”.

    In other words it’s complicated, and Japan is one large part of the complication. I’m sure that Japan does not want to see the US leave the area and there is little doubt in my mind that Japan will impede any possible progress to the best of their ability. And if by some miracle “Peace” finally arrives, Japan will in all likelihood have nukes within the year.

    1. John Wright

      Would the disliking of the Japanese be age group related?

      I visited Malaysia on a business trip in the 1990’s and was told by one local that they liked dealing with American based local companies vs Japanese based companies because the locals could rise to the top positions in Malaysia in an American based company, while Japan reserved the top positions for Japanese.

      He also volunteered that he had no personal problem with the Japanese, but his father still hated them.

      Someone 15 years old in 1945 was born in 1930, so they would be 88 years old now.

      The hate for Japan may age out of the population.

      1. JCC

        Maybe. The time frame I was speaking of were those born 1975 and earlier. I haven’t been back there in 20 years (unfortunately – I remember it as a beautiful and lively country even with the problems it had then and now) so I’m not aware of any on-the-street social changes since then. But then again, the generations I witnessed are those that are in power today.

        But, of course, views change through generations.

        1. RBHoughton

          The difficulty with Japan is their refusal to apologise for the hurting and killing they did in WWII. Now they are re-arming, the expectation of the neighbors is they will do it again.

          We in the West have been fobbed off with repeated MSM reports of Japanese apologies but they are all untrue. What happens is a Japanese official tells some western person they will “reflect” on their wartime atrocities and the MSM publishes it as an apology. The give-away is a couple of weeks later when another official tells the Japanese language press they will never apologise, their martyrs will be revered in the shrines every year, etc.

  7. tegnost

    drawing on some of the korea stories in links I’ve come to think of the situation on the peninsula to be more of a 50 year stalemate than peace, and speculating freely I feel that the bolton perspective is let’s break the stalemate and create a dynamic situation where the neolibcons can create their own new reality. I think the Col. doesn’t trust bolton much for imo good reasons

  8. Andrew Watts

    I don’t trust Wilkerson to provide an honest account of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Powerful interests in the US are aligned against any move which would upset the status quo. Either they want to maintain America’s geopolitical position in South Korea to confront China, justify military spending and the profits of the war profiteers, and/or institute another round of regime change.

    How the Trump administration handles this diplomatic and political situation will determine how the US is viewed in Asia for decades to come and whether it ultimately turns out to be a success or failure.

  9. clarky90

    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

    In my experience, people who are dishonest and manipulative, sincerely believe that, everyone on Earth, is exactly like them. Destructive personalities live in a World of impending mayhem, from every encounter.

    Many people “fight against the possibility of Peace” because it threatens their World View of unending conflict; Conflict in their personal lives, their politics, their belief systems, even their nightmare dreams… Their lives are Hellish, but at least they are stable and predictable (Purgatory you can “take to the bank”).

    So, they would choose War (so they could be right in their analysis), than choose Peace (and admit that their analysis is wrong).

    I say, give Peace a chance.

  10. Edward

    If both the U.S. and NK want a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea and a peace treaty then I think an agreement is possible; both sides share similar goals. Where will the disagreements lie? Wilkerson seems concerned that the mechanics of producing such an agreement are beyond the ability of Trump and his team. It isn’t clear to me what the correct process is supposed to be. What would Wilkerson’s ideal summit look like? Van Buren, a retired diplomat who served in Korea, has been less pessimistic about the summit and argues this diplomacy is in its early stages.

  11. ewmayer

    On the subject of false premises, Aaron Mate is himself guilty of one (bolds mine):

    AARON MATE:Now, that Fox News host’s question about North Korea being willing to give up nuclear weapons for the first time was based on a false premise. In talks with the Bush administration, which Bolton served under, North Korea in 2006 agreed to abandon, quote, all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, unquote, and also allow for international inspections. But it was the Bush administration, including Bolton, that effectively killed that agreement.

    Welcome, Colonel. Your assessment of the prospects for this process coming to a resolution and seeing North Korea denuclearize? Do you think it’s going to happen?

    As I recall, what Kim publicly committed to was denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, whereas what Mate (and most of the other western MSM news/propaganda outlets where I caught coverage in the wake of the summit) describes is unilateral NK nuclear disarmament. Of course what denuclearization of the peninsula means in terms of the US side is a bit of a sticky wicket, since the US has so many different ways to deliver nukes there from nearby bases, mid-range bases and of course halfway around the world. But to misrepresent what NK committed to as noted above is pretty glaring.

    And Wilkerson gallingly treats the South Korean side as some kind of helpless bystander in Trump’s reality TeeVee show, ignoring the crucial role they had in making the summit happen, starting most prominently with the Pyongchang ‘winter olympic thaw’. Does he think they haven’t done their homework and gamed out all kinds of reunification issues, problems and processes over the generations of the division? Does Wilkerson think the South Koreans are as short-sighted as the US elites and media, to whom lack of an instant 100% solution to this long-standing festering problem is treated as failure? The arrogance and blinkeredness of the US policy elites never ceases to astound and dismay.

  12. Bobbo

    Why all this talk from Wilkerson about whether North Korea can be trusted, and whether North Korea is negotiating in good faith? Can the US be trusted? Does the US negotiate in good faith? Why is there no discussion at all about North Korea’s principal objective in the negotiations, which is assurance from the US that it will not be attacked? Is a reasonable demand — or not? And how will that be “verified” in light of American imperialism throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and US wargames on Russia’s borders?

    Kim Jong Eun would have be to be lunatic to give up his nuclear weapons. Yes, he is playing a game, but it is a game that he is forced to play because of the sanctions.

    Japan wants a divided Korea. China wants a divided Korea. The US wants a divided Korea. A united Korea would disrupt the status quo, and there are many determined to make sure that never happens. If I was Kim Jong Eun, and John Bolton was on the other side of the table, there is no way in a million years I would disarm unilaterally.

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