Slowly, but inexorably, the world is drifting towards the prospect of an all-out war between the United States and North Korea. At the very least such a conflict is likely to result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Koreans. It also raises the very real possibility of the first nuclear exchange in history.
Primary responsibility for this terrifying prospect lies with the North Korean regime and the Trump administration. A tyrannical despot with no other cards to play with except nuclear ones has attempted to wrest diplomatic and economic concessions from an unstable, chaotic and rudderless administration led by a sociopathic narcissist unconstrained by moral or humanitarian considerations or even any basic understanding of foreign policy.
Both North Korea and the US have bluffed and blustered to the point when neither of them can back down without losing face – unless some external pressure is brought to bear. Yet such pressure is dangerously absent. China appears paralysed and unwilling to intervene to prevent Kim Jong Un’s nuclear brinkmanship. Trump’s allies have either been passive, or like our idiot foreign secretary, have actively supported the ‘tough’ US stance that has painted North Korea into a corner.
As consequence, the world is in very real danger of being dragged towards nuclear war by clowns and political gargoyles who either have no idea of the risks and consequences of what they are doing, or don’t care if they do know. The North Korean regime undoubtedly knows that if there were a nuclear or even a conventional war, much of the country would be destroyed, and its provocations are clearly predicated on the on the possibility that the US can be brought to the negotiating table before such an outcome occurs. But that is a big if when dealing with an administration for whom war offers possibly the only escape from political annihilation, impeachment and historical disgrace.
So this is as bad and as dangerous as it gets, and we will need common sense, diplomatic skill, sustained international pressure and crisis management, and very cool heads to defuse the situation. What we absolutely do not need are the maniacal prescriptions of ex-lieutenant-colonel Ralph Peters. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Peters is a former US intelligence officer, turned novelist and military pundit, and a particularly bloodthirsty neocon and exponent of unconstrained US military violence.
Peters has not time for scruples about civilians lives or collateral damage, for fluffy strategies about soft power, or the democracy-building civic projects advocated by David Petraeus and the disciples of ‘COIN’ – countersinsurgency. For him war is only about ‘Carthaginian’ solutions based on destruction, killing and the shedding of ‘blood’ – a concept that seems to arouse a visceral pleasure in him, as it does for the neocon imagination in general.
Peters first made a name for himself as a war pundit in an influential article in 1997 for the US military journal Parameters on ‘constant conflict’. Faced with a future of ‘multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe’, Peters argued that ‘the de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing.’
In the autumn of 2004, Peters returned to the same theme in a piece for the New York Post on the brink of the second US assault on Fallujah, in which he argued ‘The most humane thing we can do in that tormented city is just to win, to burn out the plague of fanaticism and prove to Iraq’s people that the forces of terror will not be allowed to enslave them…Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it.’
For Peters, the price is always worth it, and virtuous destruction is a kind of health cure for sick peoples who rarely happen to be white. Such ‘remedies’ are especially required, and even essential, when dealing with ‘civilisational’ conflicts against ‘savages’ or ‘barbarians’. In a discussion paper for the National Intelligence Council’s future (NIC) 2020 Project, written in 2004, Peters urged the US military to inflict ‘virtuous destruction’ on its global Islamist enemies, on the grounds that ‘there is no substitute for shedding the enemy’s blood in adequate quantities’ .
In the 21st century’s new conflicts, it was no good simply destroying things, Peters argued, or trying to distinguish between fighters and civilians because ‘ Such a policy not only complicates the achievement of victory, but extracts no serious policy from the population…Enemy populations must be broken down to an almost child-like state…before being broken up again.’
It is tempting, at first sight, to see Peters as a descendant of the ‘war is cruelty, but you cannot refine it’ philosophy advocated by William Tecumseh Sherman in the American Civil War. But Sherman, for all his overheated rhetoric, was a humane and thoughtful man, who knew war at first hand and was revolted by it, and whose actual practices were never as extreme as his proposals.
Peters is very different. Like many neocons, he is essentially a bloodthirsty voyeur, who has never personally experienced war or combat and observes the mass slaughter that he advocates from a comfortable distance. Where Osama bin Laden once crowed about the mass murder of ‘crusaders’, Peters celebrates the destructive power of the most powerful military nation in the world, and his single obsessive demand is that this power should be used ‘virtuously’ by inflicting punitive destruction on America’s enemies, whoever they are.
It is no surprise therefore, to find him once again advocating similar solutions for North Korea in the Murdoch press. In an article in the New York Post last month Peters asked his readers whether ‘ we kill our enemies with sufficient ruthlessness at the outset, or do we attempt to minimize North Korean casualties and expose ourselves and our allies to the prospect of a drawn-out mutual butchery?’
For Peters there is only ever one answer: ‘ in warfare there’s no substitute for killing your enemy and all those who support him. And you keep on killing until the enemy quits unconditionally or lies there dead and rotting.’
There are those, and Rupert Murdoch is almost certainly one of them, who find this kind of talk from an ex-military man, bracing, ‘truthful’ and sexy. And yesterday, Peters was at it again, arguing for a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, on the grounds that ‘Better a million dead North Koreans than a thousand dead Americans.’
As is often the case, Peters presented this equation as a form of realism, since ‘If there is any real hope of a peaceful solution, of course that would be preferable. But we cannot rely on miracles or mirages.’
In fact diplomatic negotiations are neither miraculous nor chimerical. They could happen, but Peters doesn’t want them, and never does. He is a true patriot, unwilling to ‘sacrifice American lives to shield the consciences of intellectual elites who, from protected positions of immense privilege, insist that all human life is precious.’
Instead Peters coolly advocates ‘ a million dead North Koreans’ from his own position of immense privilege. He even has the gall to give this bloodlust a patina of pseudo-philosophical gravitas. For Peters ‘warfare has been humanity’s ultimate means of resolving intractable issues since the first cave-dwellers went at the gang from the cave down yonder with rocks. We may not like it — I don’t — but to insist that war isn’t humanity’s sometimes-necessary default means of survival is to ignore all of human history.’
‘I realize this column will leave liberals aghast, while even conservatives cling to lullaby chatter. I do not relish death or human suffering. But it would be immoral to allow North Korea to develop an arsenal capable of attacking our military, our cities and our allies.’
In fact this column ought to leave anybody aghast, and no one should be fooled by his faux-revulsion. Once again, Peters has demonstrated that he is a disingenuous hypocrite as well as a depraved and bloodthirsty savage. Once again the man who claims not to ‘like’ war or ‘relish’ death or human suffering advocates mass slaughter as the only ‘solution’ and a reluctant last choice, and once once again Rupert Murdoch has given him a platform to do it.
But this time, unless the world can find a way to bring the Trump administration and the North Korean regime to their senses, there is a very real possibility that Ralph Peters might just get the total war he has dreamed about for so long, and Asia and the rest of the world may be sucked into a hell that could – and should – have been prevented.