Let’s say a few more things about a possible withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.
First, it’s important to note that few people actually expect to see a wholesale withdrawal of American troops any time soon. Yet, in a matter of such consequence, even having the possibility raised by members of congress and unnamed sources in the administration is a big deal.
In any case, is there a rationale for doing this at the present moment?
One argument is that withdrawing our troops from South Korea would make us less vulnerable to a North Korean counterstrike in the event of war. That would strengthen our hand with them militarily.
In a certain limited sense this is true: our 37,000 troops are extremely vulnerable to a North Korean lunge across the DMZ. Truth be told, that’s the main reason they’re there.
But strengthening our hand by withdrawing our troops is one of those gambits that is too clever by half. Or really, too clever by like four and a half. The truth is that our troops on the ground in South Korea are only one of several factors which make the possibility of war on the Peninsula all but unthinkable. The bottom line is that we’re not going to invade the North. And all we really end up doing is handing the North Koreans on a platter something they’ve wanted for half a century — and this in the face of their threats.
The more serious reason for suggesting this possibility is to make a point to the South Koreans. Support for our troop presence in South Korea is falling. So why not call their bluff? The thinking is that the South Koreans can afford to take more risks, be more indulgent toward the North since they know we’ll be there to pick up the pieces if things go wrong. How daring would they be, how willing to embrace Kim Jong-Il, if they didn’t have the safety net of the US military behind them?
Are these tough-guy tactics? Sort of. Is there are certain logic to it? Yes. But you can get so caught up in the details that you lose track of the larger ridiculousness of the whole discussion: the Koreans south of the DMZ are OUR ALLIES! We’re actually in a serious crisis with the North Koreans and the hawks are too busy trying to go mano a mano with the folks who are supposed to be our friends. And this from a president whose foreign policy stump speech line was “As commander-in-chief, I will rebuild our military and strengthen our alliances.”
How exactly did we get here?
Now, before we issue our nuclear demands to the North Koreans we probably first have to demand that they take a number because we can’t schedule our crisis with them until we finish our crisis with our allies in the South.
Like I said, strategic ridiculousness.