Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Herald

November 11, 2017 This Just In 13

To the extent that the American people have given much thought to what a war with North Korea might entail, my guess is that most have assumed that the United States could bomb North Korea back to the stone age, thus finally making the world safe from that despotic regime’s delusions of nuclear grandeur. Would that it were that simple.

As President Donald Trump has been touring Asia discussing options for dealing with North Korea in Japan, South Korea and China, the Pentagon offered a reality check on what war with North Korea might actually look like. This sober assessment appeared on the front page of the Washington Post, this past week.

The report begins, “The only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear sites ‘with complete certainty’ is through an invasion of U.S. ground forces. And in the event of conflict, Pyongyang could use chemical and biological weapons ‘with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood and choking agents.’ “

This bracing analysis came in a letter from Rear Admiral Michael Dumont of the Joint Chief’’s planning staff to two congressmen who had asked for “expected casualty assessments in a conflict with North Korea.”

According to the Post, the Pentagon letter also stated that a full discussion of U.S. capabilities to “counter North Korea’s ability to respond with a nuclear weapon and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons, located in deeply buried, underground facilities” is best suited for a classified briefing.

In other words, that’s all the Pentagon is going to say in public. What it did say is not a lot. But it is nevertheless enough to be alarming because what it means is that the U.S. can’t just bomb North Korea into submission. To totally eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat by force of arms. Is also going to take a land invasion by tens of thousands or more American troops who will be facing an opponent armed with chemical and biological weapons. And that’s not all.

There are 28,500 U.S. forces in South Korea and at least 100,000 American civilians living in the area, who would be caught up in any war. Then there are the 25 million South Koreans who live in Seoul which is only about 35 miles from the border with the North and all of whom would be targets of the thousands of missiles, rockets and conventional artillery North Korea is ready to fire at them in the event it is attacked. There are many bomb shelters in Seoul and an active civil defense system. Still it’s estimated that tens of thousands would be killed within the first hours of any such war - and that doesn’t include the consequences if either side began to use nuclear weapons.

Some of the commentary which followed the Pentagon letter is that it was a not so subtle warning to President Trump that there really is no acceptable military solution to the North Korean crisis. Perhaps. In any event the world’s attention was focused on what Trump would say and do during his time in South Korea, whose new President Moon Jae-in, he had once accused of appeasement.

In fact, initially Trump seemed to tone down his rhetoric and at one pointed suggested North Korea “make a deal” at the negotiating table concerning its nuclear programs. The next day, Trump had planned a surprise visit to the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas- surprise, because the White House had previously ruled out such a trip, although skeptics believed he would be unable to resist such a great photo op. As it happened his helicopter was forced to turn back due to bad weather.

Later that day in his speech to the South Korean National Assembly Trump was extravagant in his praise for South Korea- even as he excoriated every aspect of North Korea and it’s leader Kim Jong Un, whom he has been denigrating as “Little Rocket Man.”  Yet to the relief of his South Korean hosts in this speech he set no new red lines nor issued any new threats beyond warning the North “not to underestimate us.”

 At the same time in terms of negotiations to avoid war, Trump offered the North Koreans not the slightest enticement to enter into talks, by firmly re-stating the U.S. demand for “the complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Given that North Korea has invested everything it has in nuclear weapons in the belief that this is the only way it can survive, it is hard to imagine how serious diplomacy can even begin, much less succeed.

One final thought for the past week. Washington has been transformed by the election results in neighboring Virginia. The victory of the Democrats of the three top statewide positions including governor, is the first good news the party has had for a long time. Although polls suggested tight races, it wasn’t even close. Governor -elect Ralph Northam defeated Republican opponent Ed. Gillespie, who had used the Trump playbook of exploiting racial differences, false immigration threats and defense of Confederate monuments, by nine points. Perhaps even more significant is that depending on three recounts, the Democrats could take over Virginia’s House of Delegates which no one even dreamed possible.

In commentary in the major media the election results are widely interpreted as a “major rebuke” to President Donald Trump. Moreover, independent analysts see these Virginia results as a signal Democrats now have a real chance of winning the U.S. House of Representatives next November. Such an outcome would profoundly change the balance of power in Washington.

And dare I say, that if the special counsel Robert Mueller should find that crimes were committed by the Trump administration related to its Russian connections - something we don't expect to know for many months - a House controlled by Democrats, would have the power to impeach.

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