Vox's Zach Beauchamp sounds the alarm that Trump taking the time in his State of the Union speech to blast North Korea as a deeply evil, deeply anti-Christian regime that cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons capability is the biggest tell yet that preemptive military action against Pyongyang is coming. After all, we've seen this before sixteen years ago with Iraq.
“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” Trump said. “We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies.”
If this all sounds familiar, it should. In 2002, President George W. Bush gave what’s now the most infamous State of the Union in modern memory. The speech described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “axis of evil” — states that supported terrorists and thus posed a fundamental threat to the United States. We now know that this speech was designed to sell the war in Iraq, to paint Saddam Hussein’s government as an intolerable threat to the United States.
What’s really striking is looking back on the language that Bush used in that speech to discuss Iraq. He made the exact same rhetorical move that Trump did in his story about Ji — painting Saddam’s abuses of his own people as proof that the regime might well turn its fire on innocent Americans:
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.
Trump discussing North Korea in the same way that Bush discussed Saddam is a troubling warning sign. This is how American presidents sell wars absent an imminent threat. They paint the prospective enemy as evil, an enemy of civilization, something that must be defeated both to preserve our own safety and to secure the future of humanity.
You would think that in a case like this we'd want a competent ambassador on the ground with our ally South Korea, something the incompetent Trump still has failed to do for a year, and completely on purpose. If there was still any doubt over what's coming in 2018, ponder the fact that Trump just got rid of the best choice for Ambassador to South Korea.
Just before Trump’s ominous speech, we learned that Victor Cha, a highly respected North Korea scholar at Georgetown University, had been dismissed from consideration as a possible ambassador to South Korea (a currently unfilled post). This is highly unusual at this stage — Cha had already gone through security checks and been approved by the South Korean government.
The reason, according to reports in the Washington Post and the Financial Times, is that Cha had criticized the administration’s proposed plans for a strike on North Korea in private. Shortly after the news broke, Cha published an op-ed in the Post attacking the proposed plan as too dangerous and unlikely to work.
“I empathize with the hope, espoused by some Trump officials, that a military strike would shock Pyongyang into appreciating U.S. strength, after years of inaction, and force the regime to the denuclearization negotiating table,” Cha wrote. “Yet, there is a point at which hope must give in to logic.”
Cha, it seems, is worried about the Trump administration actually starting a war with North Korea. The State of the Union showed that we should be too.
The main goal of Trump's speech last night was to sell a war with North Korea to the American people. Expect a lot of this during the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea in a couple weeks. After the games are over, all bets are off.
Oh, and as an aside, Trump openly called for Congress to give his Cabinet the power to fire federal employees at will last night.
Have a nice day.