A Nobel Prize is at his fingertips. All President Trump has to do is withdraw our 28,500 troops from South Korea. As we are headed to war there otherwise, this single action will save 28,500 American lives and perhaps millions of Koreans’ as well. Estimates are that the North Koreans would fire 5,200 artillery rounds in the first ten minutes of the war. Withdrawing our troops now will make more than 60,000 American mothers, spouses, and children immediately happy to have their GI sons and daughters back from the brink of war.
Is this capitulation to the North Koreans? No, President Truman acceded to the draw more than sixty years ago. What about the brand new $11 billion military base we just built for South Korea? That was Obama’s bad decision. Perhaps a “great negotiator” like Donald Trump can recoup some of those sunk costs from the Koreans?
The reason we sacrificed 34,000 American GIs in the Korean War was to stop Communism. After the 1953 armistice we entrenched 225,000 troops on that dangerous border. In 1991 Communism was defeated with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We bled the number of troops down to the current 28,500 since then.
How would “crazy man” Kim Jong-un respond to such a unilateral move by Mr. Trump? Kim must be insane to antagonize the greatest military power the world has ever known? Have you ever cornered a rat? The North Korean leadership has been staring down the barrels of American artillery for more than six decades. This continuous, very real threat has permitted the dictatorial Kims to cruelly control the 25 million people of North Korea for six decades. Remove that threat and what happens next? I can think of at least four precedents.
First, there’s Vietnam. After losing more than 50,000 American lives there, we sued for “Peace with Honor,” the North Vietnamese agreed after losing millions themselves, Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, and three years later the North successfully invaded and conquered the South. As in the current case, China had been no help leaning on the Vietnamese to call a truce. And, of course, in the long run, I can now buy a Big Mac in Ho Chi Minh City.
Second, like our own 1860s experience, a long and bloody civil war may ensue between the Korean cousins. Surely the more populous (50 million) and more industrialized South would prevail. Notice I did not use the word win. Nobody wins wars, particularly civil ones. One side just loses less. While the North has more troops and potentially deliverable nuclear weapons, the South has the best technology in the world, and spent $37 billion on weapons and such just last year.
Perhaps the most likely outcome is the third, that is, something like the two Germanys reuniting. Yes, the economic burden of the impoverished North would be great, but the cultural pull would be stronger. Historically, Koreans have been vassals of both China and Japan. A united Korea would never be again.
Fourth, we have the model of Hong Kong being reunited with the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1997. Beijing has left that great golden- egg goose “pretty much” alone. Seven-million-person Shenzhen city, adjacent to Hong Kong, is a monument to this approach. Indeed, an invasion of the South by the North would be akin to doing a home invasion robbery of your rich next door neighbor when she has her jewels and money in a safe deposit box. And imagine the international outrage over an attack of the South by the North. Remember what happened when Saddam Hussein attacked his Kuwaiti cousins.
We know that the Koreans are able to negotiate deals without our help. They sent a joint team to the Sidney Olympics. They already have an industrial park with managers arriving by train from the South to supervise workers in the North. The South’s new President Moon Jae-in is already talking with Kim Jong-un.
Yes, Art-of-the-Deal President Trump can even claim to have pushed the two sides toward peace by choosing withdrawal over an awful war. And he did say no options were off the table on the North Korean nuclear ballistic missile crisis. The question is, does Mr. Trump have the courage to put the withdrawal option on the table? We know those 28,500 GIs’ moms do.