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An ominous signal

Feb 01,2018
The unusual dropping of Victor Cha as nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Seoul signals the increasing likelihood of a U.S. military strike on North Korea. Cha’s abandonment reportedly was the result of opposition to his nomination from a hawkish group in the White House because he didn’t approve of any military strike plan or the renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Cha is known to have opposed the idea of launching a so-called “bloody nose strike” — a limited strike on the rogue state that would not lead to a full-fledged war. Cha is also negative about the Trump administration’s option of scrapping the bilateral trade deal if necessary.

It is very rare for any country to cancel a nomination of an ambassador after getting approval from the South Korean government, as the Trump administration had. The last-minute withdrawal reflects the Trump administration’s interest in a military strike and abrogation of the trade pact.

Such a determination was conveyed in Trump’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday. In that speech, Trump underscored that North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons can threaten the U.S. mainland. That’s why America is putting maximum pressure on the state, he stressed, and he vowed to not repeat the mistakes of the past administration. That translates into a declaration that his administration will not shy away from using military force, a sharp departure from the Obama administration, which allowed Pyongyang to develop nuclear weapons under the name of “strategic patience.”

Cha is a hardliner toward North Korea. Despite this, the Trump administration chose not to appoint him U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. After his dumping was reported by the U.S. media, Cha wrote in the Washington Post that it is a big miscalculation for the Trump administration to believe it can deal a limited yet effective blow to North Korea without triggering a counterattack. Cha argued that there is no basis to the idea that unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would refrain from massive retaliation. If Kim changes the target from America to South Korea, that will be our disaster.

The doves have no place in the Trump administration. If our government continues to act like a puppet of Pyongyang, the reaction of the United States can be easily guessed. It will be tempted to take military actions. It is regrettable that the U.S. Ambassador to Seoul position will be empty for another six months. The Moon administration must be very careful about its next steps.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 1, Page 30