Last Friday, former U.S. Secretary of State and contentious public figure Henry Kissinger made headlines after asserting that North Korea poses the most immediate threat to “global security” and ominously stated that the “temptation to deal” with North Korea “with a pre-emptive attack is strong.” While some may dismiss Kissinger’s statements as merely the musings of a 94-year-old former statesman, others may argue that his influence over the presidential administration of his “long-time friend” Donald Trump could turn this “temptation” into reality.
After his rise to political prominence, Trump’s first meeting with Kissinger took place in May of 2016. Notably, that meeting occurred only a day after then-candidate Trump said he would open dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if elected President. After that initial meeting, Kissinger and Trump met last November of that same year and, afterwards, Kissinger stated that Trump would likely not be keeping all his campaign promises, as he was undergoing “the transition from being a campaigner to being a national strategist.” This apparently included letting go of his promise to open dialogue with North Korea.
In addition to their meetings in 2016, Kissinger and Trump met an additional three times last year. The most recent of those took place last October, and the topic was none other than North Korea. That same day, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis instructed the U.S. Army to stand ready if North Korea diplomacy fails. The next day, Trump met with the nation’s top military commanders in the White House Situation Room, sometimes called “the War Room,” to discuss possible options for responding to North Korean “aggression.”
These options included the “tempting” plan for a pre-emptive “bloody nose” strike against North Korea. Experts, and even former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, have noted that tens of millions of innocent civilians could easily be killed in the first 30 minutes of a military conflict erupting on the Korean peninsula as well as the fact that such a conflict could quickly become global in scale. Experts have also asserted that the U.S. would be “unlikely” to win a conflict against North Korea.
Yet, of all the possibilities raised during that meeting, not one of them included a diplomatic approach despite the attempts of both North Korea’s and Trump’s own State Department to open dialogue. Those present at the meeting also did not consider North Korea’s repeated offer to terminate its nuclear weapon and missile program if the U.S. stops conducting annual war games with South Korea in proximity to North Korean territory – an offer refused by both Obama and Trump.
While some Trump supporters may argue that Trump is unlikely to follow the advice of someone as closely connected to the “deep state” as Henry Kissinger, Trump has expressed nothing but praise for the man who is credited with transforming U.S. foreign policy into one of perpetual, undeclared war.
After their most recent meeting last October, Trump praised Kissinger’s “immense talent.” “Henry Kissinger has been a friend of mine,” he added. “I’ve liked him. I’ve respected him. But we’ve been friends for a long time, long before my emergence into the world of politics, which has not been too long.” All this, despite the fact that Kissinger is also a long-time advisor and confidante of Trump’s former rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.
Kissinger’s recent statements on North Korea come at an interesting time. Despite best efforts from the U.S. to inflame tensions on the Korean peninsula, North and South Korea have made major breakthroughs towards peace. The most noteworthy of these was the joint decision to have the teams of both nations march together during the upcoming Winter Olympics to be hosted on the Korean peninsula.
“Let’s consider some of Kissinger’s achievements during his tenure as Richard Nixon’s top foreign policy–maker. He (1) prolonged the Vietnam War for five pointless years; (2) illegally bombed Cambodia and Laos; (3) goaded Nixon to wiretap staffers and journalists; (4) bore responsibility for three genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh; (5) urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which set off a chain of events that brought down the Nixon White House; (6) pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan; (7) began the US’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran; (8) accelerated needless civil wars in southern Africa that, in the name of supporting white supremacy, left millions dead; (9) supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America; and (10) ingratiated himself with the first-generation neocons, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who would take American militarism to its next calamitous level.”
Kissinger’s notable stance on North Korea and apparent sway over Trump, along with the Trump administration’s new Nuclear Posture Review, raises additional questions related to Trump’s foreign policy moving forward as well as the question of whether Trump may be later exemplified as a war criminal alongside his “long-time friend”.