Remembering How Close We Came to Disaster With North Korea

Instead of recognizing the folly of linking maximalist goals with “maximum pressure” sanctions, the U.S. has retained both while dismissing engagement as a waste of time.

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The US and North Korea came dangerously close to war during Trump’s presidency. This is often discounted or forgotten in assessments of Trump’s foreign policy record because the war didn’t happen and Trump then made a big show of meeting with Kim Jong-un, but the crisis was real and war was much closer than most people realize. As Van Jackson has written in new report gives another example of how Trump spoke privately about the possibility of attacking North Korea, including the option of a nuclear first strike:

Behind closed doors in 2017, President Donald Trump discussed the idea of using a nuclear weapon against North Korea and suggested he could blame a US strike against the communist regime on another country, according to a new section of a book that details key events of his administration.

The claim rings true. It not only lines up with the deranged threats that Trump was making publicly during this same period, but it fits with how Trump talks and thinks about the use of force against other countries. Just last year, Trump “joked” that the US should “bomb the shit” out of Russia and then blame China for it. It is a classic Trump proposal: extremely aggressive, heedless of consequences, and eager to shift responsibility to someone else for his actions. It may be possible to distract Trump from following through on his crackpot notions, but it is important to remember that his first instinct is to attack.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Remembering How Close We Came to Disaster With North Korea”

  1. Trump was no peace time POTUS. There were no peace time POTUS after WWII. Trump had peace talks with Kim Jong Un because his war of words did not work. If Iran had WMD’s, he would have peace talks with Rouhani.
    I did not know Trump joked about bombing Russia. Nobody reading this article should say Russia rigged the election in Trump’s favor.
    Trump may not have started wars and may have been in favor of ending the war in Afghanistan but he sent a drone to Iran to kill Soleimani, rolled back trade with and travel to Cuba and scrapped the Iran Deal and continued the Cold War with China.
    Trump was not exactly an ally of Russia, both the US & Russia have troops in Syria and are on opposite sides of the war.

    1. Trump only cares about money and his ego, so his pro- or anti-war moves were just secondary issues for him and he wasn’t going to fight for them. He went to North Korea to talk peace, but brought Mike Pompeo and John Bolton with him. Does that make any sense?

      I think that Trump’s half-hearted attempt to make peace with North Korea was because he thought he’d be a hero if he did, and maybe they’d erect a statue of him for doing so (I made up the statue part, but that’s how he thinks). Trump saw no financial advantage to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, so he tried to remove them, but again didn’t care enough to stand up to the military/intelligence/industrial complex when it refused to do so. Etc.

      You have to realize that his motivations are money & ego, and to realize that he’ll say anything in order to get what he wants, in order to understand his actions. Remember that he was pro-choice not too long ago, but saw a big opportunity to get support of the religious fanatics by being anti-abortion, so he switched. And that’s just one example of how he acts.

    2. Drone strikes increased during his administration. His game is business (which he really is not good at). He wanted to put a hotel in Moscow and was not able to do it (it was still in play in 2015). He was not able to successfully implement business in China, despite having two bank accounts there, and, paying China $188,000 in taxes while paying $750 in taxes here. In 2020 he shipped Javelin rockets to Ukraine (he may have been cornered by the MIC). His fanatics are quite illiterate, grabbing a word or sentence from the “man who can solve everything”, then do terrible things, such as what occurred on 1/6/21. Voltaire: “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” That is our Donald to a T.

  2. “Rocket Man”. It is what Trump called Kim. He threatened Kim with words like, “he would see fury like never before”. Trump once asked why we have nukes if we don’t use them.

    1. The big danger with Trump regarding nuclear weapons is that, like everything except for money and his ego, he doesn’t really care (or doesn’t care at all). He also tried to make peace with North Korea, albeit half-heartedly (though that’s a lot better than any other president). I’m sure Trump thought that making peace with North Korea would make him a hero.

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