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"We the people" need our leaders to elevate the discussion about options for dealing with North Korea that fall short of war. There is no hiding the fact that the past three presidents — Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama — all contributed significantly to the pending disaster. Decades of poorly-conceived policy and feckless international conduct has brought us to this point.
There are still a number of presidential tools available that don’t seem to have made their way into the public discussion. The State Department and Pentagon are following the outdated, and useless, Cold War decision-making matrix of gradual escalation, measured or proportional response, and so on that comprised the cornerstone of our success in the Cold War. We have used the same matrix on al Qaeda, ISIS, Iran and others during our 16-year War on Terror, largely without success.
It worked with Russia in the Cold War because Russia had a rational, well-educated and experienced leadership system, and is a nation with an Orthodox Christian belief system that served to inform decisions. North Korea does not believe, think or act in a moral, faith-based or rational way. Therefore, it requires a different response matrix.
First, it's very important that the administration deliver an Oval Office address explaining the North Korean issue and why it poses an existential threat to the United States and the safety of Americans in Hawaii, Alaska and the west coast. The last missile test is a new milestone and technical development, and changes the national security calculus. The American people need to be braced on this issue with a dose of reality. Make no mistake: If conventional conflict breaks out on the Korean peninsula the war will be a heinous affair, and the casualties will be horrific. The images will shock the world. Unless one has visited or lived in Korea, it's hard to grasp how fast and how brutally conventional war will impact one of the largest and most crowded metropolitan cities in the world.
The Oval Office address should explain our mutual defense treaties with our historic Asian allies and why we stand together on this issue. An Oval Office address will make China, Russia and North Korea pay attention, and lay the groundwork for the administration to exercise, without any public warning, a much more robust set of tools and actions to demonstrate our intention to fatally squeeze North Korea if necessary, to punish its conduct, change their strategic direction, and create chaos inside North Korea and on the Chinese border in the process. North Korea will push until we mark our red line, and put the country in a vise. These signals are essential to creating the conditions necessary for North Korean and Chinese leadership to understand and react to to the actions and intent of the United States.
In a phrase, if we expect to change their perception of events and the costs of continuing to pursue both missile and nuclear capacity, we must "do something" to trigger their reevaluation.
Perception management and covert influence efforts have yet to be effectively exercised. I really believe the president has not been briefed on any title 50 specific covert action, sabotage, direct action, or deception options for North Korea. North Korea continues to test and launch missiles because they can, and know there is no penalty for doing so. This must change. After the Oval address, the president can order a “quarantine” of the North Korean nation. No ships, no aircraft, no banking, no money, no food. Sanction and freeze any wire transfer of any and all companies that are doing business with North Korea, in any sector. Focus this effort on Iran and North Korea together. Paint them into the same frame. We should tie Iran at the hip to North Korea. Iran, flush with cash and resources given to them by Obama, no longer has to risk testing its own missiles and pursuit of their nuclear R&D program. They can pay North Korea to do it. There are Iranian missile and nuclear technicians are present at every launch from North Korea.
The U.S. could shoot the next missile test down before it ever leaves North Korean airspace. If that were to occur, the U.S. could immediately release a statement that we struck the missile because our information from inside North Korea indicated the missile was programmed to strike a land-based target. It would have the potential to motivate North Korea to go on a witch hunt for the leaker.
We should signal to North Korea and China that we are preparing for all-out war on the Peninsula. Moving the carrier battle groups to the theater was the first step. There should be more signals. We should flood North Korea with information through every outlet we have to communicate with the population to tell the North Korean people what their leader is doing. We could, as has been done before, change the profile of the alert fighter aircraft on the carriers in theater and the fleet working to defend the carrier.
One example of a proactive deception operation: In the final meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz before Desert Storm in 1990-91, we wanted to ensure that Saddam Hussein understood if he used chemical, bio, or nuke weapons, the response from the U.S. would erase the culture, people and nation of Iraq. Because Aziz was the only Christian in Saddam’s inner circle, Baker used a Biblical reference in the final discussions. At the same time, the U.S. readied naval nuclear munitions. Russia detected those munitions, sent the information to Saddam in Baghdad, and told Saddam that if he used “special munitions” the US would use nuclear weapons immediately. The effort produced the desired result; Saddam pulled his chemical weapons off the front lines in a hurry, and never employed them in the war.