A provocative op-ed in today's New York Times by U. of Texas-Austin history professor Jeremi Suri, urging that we "Bomb North Korea Before It's Too Late":
The Korean crisis has now become a strategic threat to America's core national interests. The best option is to destroy the North Korean missile on the ground before it is launched. The United States should use a precise airstrike to render the missile and its mobile launcher inoperable.
President Obama should state clearly and forthrightly that this is an act of self-defense in response to explicit threats from North Korea and clear evidence of a prepared weapon. He should give the leaders of South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan advance notice before acting. And he should explain that this is a limited defensive strike on a military target -- an operation that poses no threat to civilians -- and that America does not intend to bring about regime change. The purpose is to neutralize a clear and present danger. That is all.
If North Korea is left to continue its threatening behavior, it will jeopardize the fragile economies of the region and it will encourage South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons -- a policy already advocated by hawks in both countries. Most of all, North Korean threats will encourage isolated states across the world to follow suit. The Iranians are certainly watching. If North Korea can use its small nuclear arsenal to blackmail the region with impunity, why shouldn't the mullahs in Tehran try to do the same?
The United States and its allies in East Asia have a legitimate right to self-defense and they have a deep interest in deterring future threats on this scale.
Thanks to precise satellite reconnaissance, striking the North Korean missile on the ground would be much easier than after it was launched. Since the United States cannot possibly know the missile's trajectory before a launch, and Mr. Kim has said he is targeting America and its allies, we have reason to believe that civilians face serious danger.
It is true that we don't know whether the missile that we think Kim will launch will target our allies or harmlessly fall into the ocean. But there is even greater uncertainty about whether a targeted missile strike will provoke a war - accidentally or not.
The argument that Professor Suri makes is not reasonable, nor is it particularly compelling. The goal is to prevent war, not start one. I'm afraid if we follow the good professor's advice, we will paint Kim into a corner where he is likely to lash out in order to save his position vis a vis the military and other hard line elements in the leadership.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung. Many intelligence experts think that whatever Kim has planned with those missiles, it will likely happen then. A launch would be a provocation, but hardly a reason to go to war.
Bombing the missiles raises too many questions and there is too much uncertainty that would attend that policy.