Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019|2 a.m.
View more of the Sun’s viewpoint area Seoul, South Korea– The departure of Jim Mattis as defense secretary has grave implications for the Korean Peninsula. If there was one voice of factor, calm and sound judgment when it concerned North Korea and U.S. defense of the South, it was that of Mattis.
I experienced Mattis on his first trip to Seoul and then during a number of others. He was strong in his belief in the need to be sure of having the soldiers and resources for defense of the South. At the exact same time, he went along with the shift in policy under President Moon Jae-in. His action was to give peace a possibility.
Talks in between Moon and Kim Jong Un, between President Donald Trump and Kim, were fine but on one condition. Mattis desired no compromise on denuclearization, on North Korea giving up its nukes or the long-range missiles efficient in bring them to far-off targets, and, yes, the facilities for making them.
It would be hard to characterize Mattis as a hard-liner, a war hawk eager to bomb the North’s nuclear websites or, for that matter, an enemy of Moon’s efforts at rapprochement and dialogue. If anything, he saw defense of the South as the way to keep the peace, and he did not oppose moves toward accommodation.
Nevertheless, Trump, who never ever served a day in the militaries even though his rich father sent him to a military college for high school, was obviously not at ease with the generals whom he claimed to admire.
Trump did not believe to let Mattis understand before announcing, right after his summit with Kim on June 12 in Singapore, that he was canceling huge joint workouts with the South Korean militaries. Nor did he seek advice from Mattis before saying the United States did not need a lot of troops in Korea, where the number is down to 28,500, and was spending too much on the defense of the South.
It was not till Trump arbitrarily purchased withdrawal of the small U.S. force, about 2,500, from Syria that Mattis broke with him. Mattis was not alone on Syria. All way of allies and experts believe the U.S. withdrawal from Syria opens the way for much deeper Russian and Iranian ties with the harsh regime of Bashar al-Assad, who’s supported his grip on power while suppressing or at least holding his opponents at bay.
Without Mattis around, there’s no informing what precipitous decisions Trump will make on Korea. Running from his “gut,” as he likes to say, he may agree on an extreme decrease in U.S. strength as demanded by the North. Or he may end most of the sanctions enforced by the United States and United
Nations as penalty for the North’s nuclear and rocket tests, conducted most recently in September and November 2017.
If nothing else, Trump may see no damage in validating almost any end-of-war declaration or peace statement that Kim thrusts on him on the unclear understanding of denuclearization. No one seriously thinks Kim is going to give up his nukes while demanding the United States also denuclearize. Never mind that the United States withdrew its nukes from South Korea in 1991. North Korea sees nukes on U.S. planes and ships based in Japan, Guam, even Hawaii, as more than matching its own arsenal.
Trump has actually already indicated his gullibility by tweeting on Christmas Day, “Development being made” and “anticipating my next summit with Chairman Kim”– the title “chairman” from Kim’s leadership of the judgment Workers’ Celebration.
The claim to “advance” rests on the first journey to North Korea by Trump’s brand-new North Korea point man, Stephen Biegun, who like any traveler peered across the line at Panmunjom, then talked with South Koreans and Americans in Seoul. Biegun, in 4 days in the South, let it be known it was great for South Koreans to break ground for a North-South rail link while the United States alleviated restrictions on do-good groups going to the North giving food and medicine.
No issue, but Trump chose to ignore a drumbeat of rhetoric from the North taking the South to job for acting too gradually and implicating the United States of doing nothing in the mission for reconciliation. Mattis as defense secretary would undoubtedly take a sensible view of the North’s desire to make severe concessions, which is nil.
Trump does not want to hear bad or unfavorable news about his buddy Kim Jong Un. Without Mattis around, he’ll be less inclined than ever to consider advice or views contrary to his own happy talk.
Donald Kirk has actually been a columnist for the Korea Times and South China Early Morning Post, among other newspapers and publications. He composed this for InsideSources.com.