Efforts to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons has been a football game – one now leaving us with our backs up against our own goal line. We are at a critical point in deciding whether we will act or accept defeat. What we are failing to fully grasp, however, is where the real threat from a nuclear-armed Pyongyang lies. Ironically, it is not directly from North Korea.

Despite signing an armistice ending the Korean War in 1953, Pyongyang embarked upon an aggressive foreign policy, eventually moving the ball forward into the nuclear arms arena. Meanwhile, our offense consisted of a series of laterals and punts as administration after administration left its successor to resolve the nuclear issue. President Barack Obama’s failed policy toward Pyongyang of “strategic patience” was of no help – a policy translated by the North to mean “go for it,” as evidenced by its tremendous gains during his presidency.

With time running out on the game clock, President Donald Trump has two options.

One is to take a knee in the end zone, accepting defeat, allowing Pyongyang to achieve its nuclear goal. But doing so leaves us in the precarious position of having to rely on “a wing and a prayer” it will not use its nuclear arsenal against us or our allies. Realistically, Pyongyang would not do so.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sufficiently cherishes his own life not to initiate a nuclear first strike. He knows a retaliatory U.S. strike would end his family’s dynasty. But that does not alleviate the problem.

Of equal value to Kim is money. He recognizes a great financial reward can be made selling nuclear weapons. We must realize, therefore, allowing Pyongyang to have nuclear weapons means accepting the fact such devices would make their way into the hands of enemies known and unknown. Terrorist groups desiring such devices would seek to sneak one into the U.S. with the help of a well-paid drug cartel compromising our borders.

Much of Iran’s nuclear development program is linked to North Korea’s. Iranian scientists have attended many of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests. As the leading state sponsor of terrorism and as a deep pocket for the terrorist group Hezbollah, which has close links with the Mexican drug cartels, Tehran has helped fund Kim’s nuclear program. The mullahs would see a nuclear device from Kim as a gift from Allah.

Thus, Trump’s first option leaves America at risk that, at some future date, we will be threatened by or become the victim of a nuclear attack. Trying to locate such a device would be the equivalent of playing “Where’s Waldo” with a nuclear bomb.

Therefore, the only option capable of stopping Pyongyang is making clear Trump will throw the long pass – a surgical military strike to quickly neutralize Kim’s ability to retaliate against us or our allies. While it will be costly, it is absolutely necessary. Hopefully, just the immediate threat of the pass will suffice.

This past week, observers were pleased to see North Korea participate in talks with South Korea, breathing a sigh of relief war has been averted. Feeding into this perception is Pyongyang’s commitment to participate in the Winter Olympic Games being hosted in the South next month. In a propaganda “puff” piece, the government-controlled North Korean media even touts this as a step towards reunification.

While hopeful critics look for the positive from these talks, reality suggests otherwise.

Undoubtedly, the Chinese and Russians have coached Pyongyang to participate in the talks and the games. Kim gives up relatively little by doing so, while making it appear he is taking a big step toward seeking peaceful resolution.

The reality, however, is Pyongyang has two objectives in mind: 1) seeking to establish a false sense it is open to negotiation on its nuclear program, which the U.S. demands must go; and 2) seeking to play Seoul against Washington, knowing the former will likely veto the latter’s call for military action.

South Koreans know they easily fall within range of North Korean artillery. But they have known this for decades and refused to do anything about it. When President Jimmy Carter withdrew most U.S. forces from the South in 1977, the U.S. gave Seoul an action plan to protect itself. It included relocating important government ministries further south, constructing bunkers to protect citizens and acquiring a missile defense system. Not only has little been done to prepare for this, much of the funding Seoul could have used to achieve it was given Pyongyang either in the form of aid or cash — the latter for North Korea agreeing to hold two summit meetings in 2000 and 2007 that achieved nothing.

The North Koreans are experts at playing both the Americans and the South Koreans for fools. President Bill Clinton fell victim to this, believing he had achieved a framework agreement with the North in 1994. However, the deal was only used by Pyongyang to buy time to further advance its nuclear program, resulting in another U.S. lateral.

So confident of a peaceful resolution with Pyongyang was Clinton, he opted to forego deployment of President Ronald Reagan’s proven Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star War”) technology – which would have protected us today from North Korean missiles. But he also acquiesced to a request Pyongyang made in 2000 that dishonored our own Navy.

Thirty-two years earlier, North Korean patrol boats attacked and captured the USS Pueblo – an intelligence ship operating in international waters – imprisoning her crew. The crew was released a year later, but the North still kept the ship as an illicit war trophy.

Clinton allowed the North to move the Pueblo – which remains on the Navy’s active roles to this day – from Wonsan Harbor on its east coast, up the Taedong River – a transit of 1,000 miles through international waters – unchallenged by our Navy, for public display in Pyongyang.

The only reason the North entered talks last week with the South is to further its nuclear agenda. Seoul, having done nothing for decades to defend itself against its northern bully, will encourage Trump to take a knee in the end zone. Hopefully, the president, realizing what now is at stake, will recognize time is of the essence to do otherwise.

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