If a pollster asked respondents a question on the order of “Would you favor the government handing Americans unlimited amounts of money?” without specifying that “it might destroy the economy,” you wouldn’t take it very seriously, would you? In fact, you’d probably (and rightly) condemn the survey as a con job.
And that’s exactly the reaction you should have to a new “finding” by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that this year, for the first time [since 1990, when the organization began asking the question], “a majority of Americans express support for using US forces to defend South Korea” if it was attacked by North Korea. According to the Council, moreover, this figure has risen sharply since 2015 – from 47 percent to 62 percent.
If you’re a RealityChek regular, you know why this question is fraudulent. It doesn’t tell respondents that North Korea is terrifyingly close to being able to retaliate against such U.S. military involvement by destroying an American city or two with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In fact, the question doesn’t mention anything about specific consequences for riding militarily to South Korea’s rescue. Even granting that the public realizes that wars are not picnics, the Council’s full phrasing was inexcusably anodyne:
“There has been some discussion about the circumstances that might justify using US troops in other parts of the world. Please give your opinion about some situations. Would you favor or oppose the use of US troops if North Korea invaded South Korea?”
Like the issue was simply being debated in a seminar.
Nor did the Council tell Americans why their country would need to risk blood and treasure to aid South Korea. It’s because, even though the South’s economy is vastly larger than the North’s, and even though the North actions have been threatening for decades, this long-time U.S. protectorate spends a negligible fraction of its wealth on its own defense.
So here’s what the Council should have asked:
“For nearly seventy years, the United States has pledged to defend South Korea militarily from attack by communist North Korea. But this promise was made when it created no risk for the American homeland, when the South was dirt poor, and when Washington feared that communism was on the march worldwide. Now it’s clear the North will very soon be able to launch a successful nuclear attack on the United States if it keeps its promise to the South. Since the alliance was formed, South Korea has skimped on its own defense spending even though it’s become one of the world’s richest countries. And communism is dead as a global military menace. Would you favor or oppose using U.S. troops to defend a free-riding South Korea if the result could be the nuclear destruction of an American city?”
Of course, my phrasing could be toned down. It could also add the argument American trade and other forms of business with economically dynamic East Asia would suffer if major war broke out anywhere in the region (although it’s easy to argue that business with the region has been a big net loser for the American economy), and that so far, the U.S. military presence and commitment have helped keep the peace. And to be fair, the Council didn’t mention any pro-interventionist arguments, either.
But the main point is that it’s hard to imagine any consideration surrounding the decision to intervene in a Korean war remotely comparing with this development: Until recently, Americans could be certain that their own territory would remain unscathed. Now such involvement could kill and maim millions of their compatriots, and turn important metropolitan areas into radioactive wastelands.
As I’ve long written (along with others), the American foreign policy establishment has been so irrationally wed to the country’s alliances that it’s concealed the catastrophic, and sometimes suicidal, (in the case of Europe, where the antagonist has been the Soviet Union and now Russia) dangers they have inevitably created. The only useful information contained in this Chicago Council on Global Affairs Korea finding is that, wittingly or not, this group is participating in the cover-up.