As the war of words between the governments of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un has spiraled into childlike name-calling and escalating military threats, the world shudders at the possible consequences. The Pentagon has reportedly estimated that a North Korean attack with conventional weapons against the South would kill 20,000 people a day; but deaths could reach the millions in the event of a nuclear war.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, the U.S. is already participating militarily in what humanitarian aid groups have labeled crimes against humanity. U.S. military forces are participating in refueling Saudi bombers and also in their targeting, which has killed thousands of civilians. By cutting off food imports, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen's civil war has put more than seven million people at the brink of starvation.
The "Saudis are deliberately trying to create a famine inside Yemen in order to essentially starve the Yemenis to the negotiating table" – and "the United States is participating," said Sen. Chris Murphy.
And now, as a result of the destruction, Yemen has the worst cholera outbreak in the world, which has infected more than 500,000 people, with at least 2,000 deaths so far. The U.N. estimates that a child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes.
When our government threatens whole nations with annihilation, or participates in massive cruelty and collective punishment in far-away places, it is important to at least try to understand why this happens. While these crimes are illegal (even Trump's threats against North Korea are prohibited by the U.N. charter) and nothing could justify them, our political leaders and policy analysts nonetheless fill the mass media with rationales that often win at least tacit support from many people who should know better.
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The idea that North Korea's nuclear capacity is a threat to the U.S., in particular because Kim might be crazy enough to attack us, was dismissed in a recent New York Times report:
The fear is not that Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival. But if Mr. Kim has the potential ability to strike back, it would shape every decision Mr. Trump and his successors will make about defending America's allies in the region.
In other words, if North Korea could retaliate against a U.S. attack, Washington would have less power in Asia. It seems that when we dig beneath the surface of "national security" arguments for terribly dangerous or violent foreign policies, it is more often power, rather than the security or well-being of Americans, that underlies them. Otherwise, the negotiation of peaceful solutions would be the first priority.
But as recently as June, the Trump administration dismissed an offer from North Korea and China to negotiate a deal in which North Korea would freeze its missile and nuclear testing in return for the U.S. freezing its "big, large-scale military exercises" in the Korean peninsula.
The same imperial priorities that prevent a negotiated solution with North Korea appear to be a major reason for U.S. participation in the war and atrocities in Yemen. In this case it is part of Washington's strategic alliance with the Saudi dictatorship, which has recently been subjected to increasing criticism for its support for terrorist groups, including ISIS.
Fortunately, members of Congress are pushing back against the unconstitutional, unauthorized participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.