DONALD Trump is “overloading” his military, undermining the world’s trust in the United States and pushing us towards an imminent war with North Korea, a respected retired general has claimed.
General Barry McCaffrey’s comments, made during a TV interview with NBC, come amidst a perpetually deepening crisis on the Korean peninsula, as Kim Jong-un escalates his threats against the United States and its allies — including Australia.
Last night North Korea directly threatened us, warning we had made a “dangerous” mistake by aligning ourselves with the US.
“Lately, Australia is showing dangerous moves of zealously joining the frenzied political and military provocations of the US against the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” the Korean Central News Agency, a government mouthpiece, said.
“The Australian foreign minister personally expressed her support for the stand of the US to consider all options, including the US of force towards the DPRK, and turned up at Panmunjom on October 11 together with the Australian defence minister to condemn the DPRK during her visit to South Korea,” it added, taking aim at Julie Bishop and Marise Payne.
Panmunjom is located inside the tense demilitarised zone, a 4km-wide strip that separates North Korea from South Korea, which you can see in the graphic below. The two countries have technically been at war for more than 65 years.
“Should Australia continue to follow the US in imposing military, economic and diplomatic pressure upon the DPRK despite our repeated warnings, they will not be able to avoid a disaster.”
That threat does not appear to have shaken the Turnbull government. Speaking on Sky News today, Defence Personnel Minister Dan Tehan said: “We will not be cowed by the North Koreans. We will continue to do everything we can to protect and help and support our allies.”
During their visit to the DMZ, Ms Bishop and Ms Payne discussed ways to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table. But if Gen McCaffrey, a retired US Army general, is correct, that will be extremely difficult while Mr Trump is president.
“Something has to be said here. I think the president has lost almost all credibility with the international community. They’re going to wait him out. So I wouldn’t overstate the damage he’s doing,” Gen McCaffrey told NBC.
“The problem is we’ve got so many crises going on now, potentially, that he’s overloading the diplomatic effort, as well as the US armed forces’ ability to deal with it.
“I don’t want us to take our eye off North Korea. The current language out of the administration, that lack of a diplomatic and serious engagement strategy, in my view, has us sliding toward war by next summer,” the retired general said.
We should note that in the US, “next summer” would mean mid-2018.
Anchor Brian Williams was quick to point out that Gen McCaffrey does not have a reputation for inflammatory rhetoric — making his warning all the more chilling.
“I’ve known the general for many years. I know him as a level-headed man not given to hyperbole,” Mr Williams said.
Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s beaten opponent in last year’s presidential election, took her own swing at his handling of the Korean crisis.
“We will now have an arms race, a nuclear arms race, in East Asia,” the former US secretary of state told CNN.
“We will have the Japanese, who understandably are worried with missiles flying over them as the North Koreans have done, that they can’t count on America.
“Diplomacy, preventing war, creating some deterrents is slow, hard-going, difficult work. And you can’t have impulsive people or ideological people who basically say, ‘Well, we’re done with you.’”
Mr Trump, for his part, has not spoken publicly about North Korea for several days, preferring to focus on health care policy. He has previously said diplomatic efforts have failed, and he will be forced to intervene militarily if Kim Jong-un does not halt his weapons program.
The president visited his golf club in Virginia today before having dinner at his hotel in Washington DC, but despite his relatively relaxed schedule, there are several crises on his plate.
Putting North Korea aside, Mr Trump is still facing a difficult clean-up effort in Puerto Rico, where a majority of residents remain without power in the wake of Hurricane Irma. And on the world stage, he is dealing with a delicate situation in Iran after threatening to pull out of an Obama-era agreement designed to curtail its nuclear weapon program. Mr Trump believes the deal is fatally flawed.
“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Mr Trump said on Friday.
“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.”
Unsurprisingly, Ms Clinton has taken issue with Mr Trump’s handling of Iran as well, saying his decision “makes us look foolish and small and plays right into Iranian hands”.
“That is bad not just on the merits for this particular situation, but it sends a message across the globe that America’s word is not good,” she said, echoing Gen McCaffrey’s fear that Mr Trump is undermining the world’s confidence in his administration.
The general is also concerned that the Iran controversy will distract Mr Trump from Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be preparing to launch another ballistic missile ahead of an upcoming joint naval drill by the US and South Korea.
The drill, to be led by an aircraft carrier, is a fresh show of force from the two key allies, and in the past Kim has responded angrily to such displays.
Satellite pictures have reportedly shown ballistic missiles mounted on launchers being transported out of hangars near Pyongyang. US and South Korean officials suspect Kim is planning to launch missiles capable of reaching US territory.
It would merely be the latest in a long line of provocative moves — and each one raises the prospect a war no one wants to fight.
This post was originally published in news.com.au by Sam Clench