If N. Korea is the Threat, Why is all the War Talk about a Weak Iran?

All the talk in Washington is about war on Iran, which poses no threat to the United States. But one never hears belligerence toward North Korea, which routinely menaces the US (most recently threatening to nuke the US territory of Guam). In contrast, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said his country cannot have nuclear weapons because they are incompatible with Islamic law (which forbids killing innocent noncombatants).

North Korea Iran
Nuclear Warheads: 8 Nuclear Warheads: 0
Times has threatened to nuke US: 1 Times has threatened to nuke US: 0
Air Force Personnel 85,000 Air Force Personnel: 30,000
tanks: 3,500 tanks: 1,613
Active Troops: 1,106,000 585,000
8500 artillery field pieces 3000 artillery field pieces

Aljazeera English reports:

26 Responses

  1. Juan… Last night as I watched the evening news present a segment on N Korea moving missiles around, I too thought…If N. Korea was located in the middle east the neocon press would be ratcheting up the war rhetoric to hysterical levels. By contrast most of the interviews last night centered around…”Don’t worry they (NK) do this all the time.”

    The Bush/Cheney/neocon “preemptive strike” policy was just another, in the log list of scams, perpetrated on the American public to invade a sovereign country who just happened to be sitting on a sea of oil.

    Secondly, just as Israel only attacks rock throwing populations with their F-15s and their neighboring countries who cannot retaliate, so the US is famous for going to war with non-nuclear countries whose military capabilities are limited, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Even then we fail miserably as was done in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. Money can’t buy you victory.

  2. Actually, all the talk in Washington is not about “war on Iran.” There are those who throw such loose talk around, but serious leaders–the President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and others with responsible portfolios–while concerned with stopping Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, are not running around with their hair on fire shouting “war!”.

    That US leaders have not taken a potential military strike off the table is standard doctrine. One does not tie one’s hand behind one’s back in advance of either negotiations or a potential strike. And I would not put much faith in Khamenei’s statement that Iran cannot have nuclear weapons because they would be incompatible with Islamic law. Pakistan seems to have found nuclear weapons and Islamic law compatible indeed.

    To the point about why the US does not talk about war with North Korea, the easy answer is North Korea holds both the US and South Korea hostage via their ability to wreak devastation on Seoul, which is located just 30 miles from the DMZ. It is not their nuclear capacity that prevents military action against them. North Korea does not have a nuclear delivery system yet. It is their conventional forces.

    The North Koreans have the world’s fourth largest military, and although it operates on outdated Soviet military doctrine, and the North’s tanks, armored vehicles, and fighter planes are all 1950s and 1960s Soviet vintage, they could do plenty of damage before we could stop them. But it is the North’s artillery, arrayed just beyond the DMZ in the North and trained on South Korea, that would initially devastate seoul before we could begin the counter-attack that would eventually defeat North Korea. The North has a total of 21,000 artillery pieces (not the 8,500 listed in the chart above), with 13,000 of them trained on Seoul. (Source: “The (Korean) Military Balance, 2011: UK, IISS, 2011.) In summary, by holding Seoul hostage, North Korea holds the US and South Korea hostage, in terms of a military strike against the North.

    • As you know well, the war talk in Washington is in fact about Iran, above all in the halls of Congress. And, they keep making the more reluctant executive affirm that all options are on the table, i.e., they are happy enough to attack Iran militarily.

      • Two points, Professor Cole.

        A. Any talk of “war” in Washington is about Iran, and it is made by certain members of Congress. But that is a very different observation than, “All the talk in Washington is about war on Iran.” In fact, lately all the talk in Washington, far from being about war on Iran, has been about the North Korean threats and what they mean. (Full disclosure: I live in Washington, DC.)

        B. Congress is not forcing the Executive to affirm that all options are on the table with regard to Iran. That would be the Executive’s position regardless of Congress’s desire. It is correct and prudent to maintain all options on the table at this stage of the game. That does not mean that the President is inclined toward war with Iran, but it is never a good idea to give up any option when dealing with a potential adversary, either across the negotiating table or on the battlefield. Perhaps if negotiations were to proceed in earnest.

  3. We are only able to manage one Two Minute Hate at a time. And “pivoting” a monstrosity as cumbrous as “the US” from one “threat” to another takes a huge amount of logistics and procurement and planning and setting the fools up to Believe In The Changed Reality…

  4. Why is there belligerency toward Iran and talk of war with Iran in Washington but not of war with N Korea? Because N Korea is not in Israel’s regional neighborhood as Iran is. Belligerency toward Iran is all about Israeli interests and its control over the American policy decision making process and its capacity to use America’s power for the service of Israel.

    Israel is further served by the inability and failure of America’s leaders to think for themselves and focus on their own interests and to have the courage to stand up to he Israeli lobby and its friends in the US.

    • You should expand your knowledge.

      You apparently are unaware of Saudi Arabian policy on Iran.

      High level Saudi Arabian officials have been vehemently demanding that the USA take military action against Iran. For years.

      • I am aware of Saudi Arabia’s views on Iran. But Iran does not have a counterpart to the leagues of ‘Israeli-firsters’ which Israel has in the US. Nor does the Emir of Saudi Arabia stand up in front of the United Nations General Assembly with a cartoonish picture of bomb with a made in Iran label. Nor is Saudi Arabia threatening to pre-emptively attack Iran every day as does Mr Netanyahu.

      • Actually, back in ’07 or so I was hearing about talks between Saudi and Iran on settling some of their disputes. But the Bushites were on an all-out propaganda campaign to convince the Arab monarchies to fear Iran, in order to get their help in arresting the growing mess they themselves had made by creating a power vacuum in occupied Iraq. It sounds like Israel got its two cents’ in first.

  5. Interesting table. Also valid to ask: Why all the fuss about Iraq WMD? I believe there is zero rationale in most of the rhetoric if not the entire foreign policy game, including 10 Downing Street’s claim that North Korea is enough of a threat to Great Britain’s security to spend billions on the UK’s already bloated nuclear arsenal. It is becoming harder to continue thinking that our times are not the most insane in history, given ample evidence to the contrary.

    • So true and if they can stop the flow of oil from Iran like what has been done to Iraq and Libia then the house of saud&bush&big oil win. The only loser is Amerikan Soldiers and any citizens caught in the cross fire.

  6. What if North Korea were to persuade the Chinese government to adopt the position that it (China) would support North Korea in the event that North Korea felt compelled to make a preemptive strike in self-defense against the United States? Thank goodness our Congress and President would never get suckered into doing something similar, right?! Oops. See S.Res.65: link to thomas.loc.gov:

  7. I am going to stop paying taxes if my taxes are going to used for strategic war fighting on behalf of other nations. (Israel). I am a pro Israel person and like Israel and would also support helping them in case of an attack on them, but cant support war of aggression on behalf of Israel.

    Iran is not a threat directly to the US and in fact Iran is the only muslim middle eastern country which is like United States and should be our partner.

  8. My earlier comment about not paying Taxes is a kind of rhetorical wenting out of frustration.
    Taxes should be utilized in proper way for education and scientific research and for enabling the growth of prosperity of citizens!!!

  9. These two adjacent articles point up a curious parallel: Israel is to the US what North Korea is to China!

    * Both have Israel and North Korea have governments driven by insane ideologies.
    * Both states may trap their sponsors into wars that the sponsors don’t want.
    * Both countries would rapidly collapse if not for the support of their sponsors.
    * The logic of these relationships is incomprehensible to outside observers.
    * Both have brutally oppressive governments.
    * Under normal circumstances you would expect that the sponsor state would dictate to the client state, but here the roles seem oddly reversed.
    * Such situations end eventually, but they both seem to be headed for an especially bad ending.
    * Israel has an excellent PR (public relations) machine in the US. The North Koreans must have an equally effective PR (private relations) machine where it matters: the Chinese leadership.
    * Both sponsor states seem trapped in these situations for largely historic reasons while the current situation has changed enormously.
    * These relationships are very costly to the sponsor nation and provide almost no benefit.

  10. When one nation threatens another’s resources, in this case Iran’s Nuclear program, that is a war threat.

    After the trillions spent on nuclear deterent why are the conservatives so scared? The MAD doctrine is still there, the submarines and ballistic missiles are still there, so what is the problem? Are the war hawks facing the truth that the Nuclear weapons may not deter everybody?

    More critical is the question of China and Russia’s response to N Korean and US actions. Is this another Cuban Crisis, where the Castros were willing to take Cuba to the brink of destruction in their hatred of the US?

    • This is not another “Cuban Crisis”.

      In the 1960s the US targeted Fidel Castro and Cuba with the Operation Mongoose covert operations program jointly run by the CIA and U.S. Army. Missiles were sent into Cuba by the U.S.S.R. as a deterrent, which was detected by a Cuban informant and transmitted to the CIA and later confirmed by satelllite photos. The Cuban Missile Crisis ensued.

      The U.S. is not trying to overthrow North Korea’s govenment.

      I suspect that firing any missiles at U.S. interests or South Korea would be national suicide for the North. I also suspect the current North Korean government is manufacturing this controversy to draw attention away from the poor standard of living of North Koreans and focus attention on boosting morale among the people in North Korea.

    • Because the big lie of “defense” is that we will ever have enough to be satisfied, instead of looking at our tax bill and demanding that our forces be used more aggressively to get more of the things we want besides legitimate security. Andrew Bacevich chronicled in his writings the ironic story of how the post-Vietnam Pentagon tried to protect its ass by demanding tons of spending, but also imposing the Powell Doctrine to prevent actually having to fight. Inevitably, politicians were elected who felt the spending had to be validated in the battlefield, no doubt with economic benefits in mind. This also happened with MAD. LBJ’s people encouraged the USSR to build an arsenal similar to ours to create a stable deterrent balance; to prove they were different, Nixon and his DefSec Laird looked to build ABMs and load multiple warheads on missiles to overwhelm that advantage.

  11. This Great Game stuff is really kind of fun. Here’s one small sample of the kind of studies and cases and scenarios the Deep Wise Thinkers get into, link to www1.american.edu, facilitated by people who spend their lives thinking up not only threats and counter-threats and counter-counter-counter-counter-threats, but reasons for “their side” to deploy or resist the same, in pursuit of one vain “advantage” or another. Like invading Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Vietnam, or Costa Rica. Based on a calculus of “advantage” that maybe starts with Sun Tzu’s advice on Making War, Not Love, and then wanders off into realms of self-promoting generals and Policy Gurus and of course who gets rich off of this stratagem or device or that other one, and which set of doctrines and war toys and deployments will ensure a steady “need” for more of the “products” of the system down the road.

    So “Seoul is just 30 miles from the DMZ (sic),” and “Cuber is just 90 miles from our shores,” and Guantanamo is just 90 miles from Havana or thereabouts.” Anyone feeling any more secure with the current set of people with their responsible portfolios under their arms “in charge here,” with Serious Observers to back them up, repeat the Current Narrative, and promote the current Theme and Doctrine by filling up all the talk in Washington, that remote village full of idiots that controls the keys to the missiles and the helms of the “littoral combat vessels” and the marching orders of all those Troops, etc., and thus our destinies?

  12. The point is, Obama has a good chance to replace 2 minor wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2 major wars in Korea and in Iran.

  13. It just goes to show that if a country constitutes a REAL THREAT: that is, it has nukes and maybe also a big army/navy/airforce, the US won’t threaten it with war. Only the relatively harmless will be threatened and/or attacked.

    I believe this is Reagan’s famous “Grenada Doctrine.”

  14. we need to speak with our allies, and speak to other members of the security council of the UN. if we care it all, Obaman needs to grow some balls, and we need to get in there and end this saver rattling. i am anti war, but this is a clear imminent attack on our country, not to mention on countless allies. If we can verify that we know this guy is serious, then we need to get in there and protect japan, and the south! unbelievable reotoric comming out of there,i’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know the un laws, but i know natural law and our constitution. We need to make sure this all came from his mouth, that he in deed is serious, because if so hes already declared war on us 5 times, and not just conventional but nukes! this is nuts, we must get obama to rally the troops, call them out of afghanistan, and get them over to the DMZ, andU puts this to an end. UNBELIEVABLE REOTORIC! Obama can start wars, libya, syria, crazy! knowing the 1950’s tech over there, a nut case group of generals is running the show. I think Mr Jong Un will come to his senses. this is a clear on threat to not just us, but could have grave circumstances for Mr. Jon Un. Hes playing with fire, and if we look weak we are done because Syria, Iran etc will never take us for real again. We are being viewed as weak, so lets get a korean to the newscasts, pick up a damn phone and contact the north. if these threats are real, we need to act first. what more important our lives, our whole hemisphere because knowing Mr Jong Un, he is a danger to life it self and those rockets probably dont hit on target. We need to get serious!

    • Any questions, now, as to why “we” are in serious trouble? And what a debt we all owe to FOX and the WaPo and Kristol and Wolfowitz and of course the Coors and the Koch Bros. for ensuring that we will have a rational approach to the rest of the world?

  15. Besides all the discerning reasons given by the other posters, I think that a war in the Korean peninsula is viewed as too damn disruptive of the global economy. The fantasy on Iran is that some sort of “surgical” strike can destabilize the regime enough that it will be overthrown from within, before it can blockade the Straits of Hormuz long enough to plunge the world into another depression. But a nuclear Korean war could shut down trade by Japan, South Korea, China, and the west coast of the US. That’s a staggering amount of money. The investors view Asians as real, profitable human beings, not just abstractions like Moslems.

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