The U.S. is preparing to launch a pre-emptive military strike if it appears that a nuclear weapons test by North Korea is imminent, NBC News reported last night, further ratcheting up rhetoric about the totalitarian hermit regime.
Michael Malice, author of Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, explained to Reason that the U.S. and North Korea were in a fundamentally new and more dangerous place today because of a number of actions taken on the U.S.'s part.
"We've never said we're done talking to them before," Malice noted, referring to Rex Tillerson's comments last month that the U.S. was done negotiating and that its "policy of strategic patience" had ended.
Malice also mentioned the U.S. sending the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, as a specific show of force, as something new—the U.S. has generally sent ships to the region only for military exercises.
"We're openly discussing assassinating Kim Jong Un," Malice continued, pointing to a Drudge Report headline linked to an NBC News report that mentioned the option to "target and kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other senior leaders in charge of the country's missiles and nuclear weapons and decision-making" as one of three options the National Security Council presented President Trump, along with deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea and covert action to disrupt North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
"This was never a headline before," Malice explained, "and the idea that any country is going to be happy while the Americans, who are really tough, are musing about killing their leader, is kind of whacky."
Malice compared the situation to last week's missile strikes on Syria: "We were more aggressive against North Korea in the last couple of weeks than we had been in Syria, and we hit Syria, and that's new."
Malice said the administration was telegraphing that it was moving to Plan B, "and I'm scared of what that's going to be."
Earlier this week Trump told the Wall Street Journal that after listening to the president of China "for 10 minutes" he realized the North Korea situation was "not so easy." Trump continued: "I felt pretty strongly that they [China] had a tremendous power over North Korea… but it's not what you would think." The U.S. sent the Carl Vinson to the region the next day.
Earlier this month, Tillerson said the U.S. had "no further comment" on North Korea's missile tests. I wrote that this was a good thing if it meant not paying attention to North Korea, which thrives on such attention. Yet since then, the administration has lavished the regime in it.
North Korea, Malice explained, sees itself as a "shrimp among whales" and its leaders "revel in giving the finger to bigger parties" like Russia, the U.S., Japan, and even China.
Malice said that Trump's more confrontational posture toward North Korea makes Kim Jong Un more likely to launch a nuclear weapons test, "100 percent."
"First of all, if you, Ed, are threatening me, Michael, as a person, you're a bigger guy, my best move is to not escalate," Malice explained, "but it is to have a strong bluff to get you to back off."
Malice pointed out that Trump should be intimately familiar with this concept. "Trump said this himself: you have to hit back," Malice said. "He wouldn't even let Meryl Streep off the hook."
"I don't think Trump's informed about North Korea, and I don't think he's in a position to be informed," Malice explained. "You can't sit someone down with no foreign policy experience and give them a 30 minute speech and he gets it."
The North Korean regime has been feeding its population a steady diet of propaganda about "U.S. imperialists."
"They have been told for 70 years that the U.S. wants to conquer them since the 1860s," Malice explained. In 1866, the American armed merchant marine steamer General Sherman was attacked and eventually destroyed when it arrived in Pyongyang without permission.
"When the media reports on U.S. ships approaching Korea, or Tillerson's comment that the U.S. was done talking… that's not North Korean propaganda, that's facts," Malice explained. "Can you imagine if Iran told Israel they were done talking, or vice versa?"
Asked how North Korea might respond to a pre-emptive strike, Malice said he was "terrified to speculate," but that North Korean propaganda always blames everything on the U.S.
"There are 100,000 to 200,000 people in the concentration camps and they are told constantly and explicitly that if the U.S. imperialists invade, we will kill you all and burn your camps down," Malice stressed. (Watch Reason TV's interview with a prison camp escapee.)
Neither should anyone bank on Kim Jong Un being deposed anytime soon. "In 1994, when Kim Jong Il took over," Malice explained, "everyone in the West said that's the end of North Korea. Who's loony now?" The elder Kim served from 1994 until his natural death in 2011, and was succeeded by his son.
"There is no end game," Malice continued. "If you're willing to let up to 10 percent of your population starve to maintain power, what's it going to take for you to release your hand from the whip?"
Malice also pointed out that the fates of previous dictators only encourages Kim to tighten his own grip on power. "When these leaders go down, Libya, Iraq, Slobodan Milosevic, Romania, they are personally killed," Malice explained, "so Kim's not in a position to liberalize, even if he wanted to, because he'd get shot, and for good reason." Kim Jong Il showed party leaders footage of Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu being executed by firing squad after the fall of communism, telling them it would happen to everyone of them if they lost power. "And it's true," Malice continued. "These people should all be shot, they're nightmares."
U.S. actions in places like Libya also make it less likely that Kim would even consider disarming. Libya's Col. Moammar Qaddafi relinquished what he said were his weapons of mass destruction in the wake of the Iraq War, but was deposed during a U.S.-backed intervention less than a decade later anyway.
Regime change in North Korea, where the population is deeply propagandized, would be even more impossible than in places the U.S. has tried before.
"The idea that it's basically, you go in and put a bullet in this guy, if you thought Iraq was a nightmare," Malice said, "they've got nothing on North Korea."
Malice will appear on Tucker Carlon on Fox News tonight at 9:00 p.m., a show the president's been known to watch. "Maybe I can save a few lives," he said.
Watch a 2014 Reason TV interview with Malice below: