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Trump and Kim Jong Un Are 'Children Playing' at War, Former Top U.S. Intelligence Officer Says

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"We have two children playing with each other," Lieutenant Colonel Eric Anderson, who served as an intelligence officer in South Korea for many years and was a senior analyst on North Korea while stationed in Hawaii and then Japan, told Newsweek. Getty Images

A former top intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force who spent years focusing on North Korea is warning the American public to resist being distracted by President Donald Trump's bombastic rhetoric toward Kim Jong Un and his regime. 

"We have two children playing with each other," Lieutenant Colonel Eric C. Anderson, who served as an intelligence officer in South Korea for many years and was a senior analyst on North Korea while stationed in Hawaii and then Japan, told Newsweek. "I don’t think Donald Trump can find North Korea on a map, frankly."

Anderson contends North Korea has no real interest in going to war with the U.S., but Trump has succeeded in temporarily making Pyongyang's empty threats a distraction from his chaotic administration. 

"When things are going bad at home, you look abroad. What you have with North Korea is an easy target to latch onto. Much easier than China and far simpler than the Russians given the entanglement [Trump] has there. The situation with the North Koreans is an easy grasp…Easy enough to point fingers...Most Americans don’t know enough to say, 'Oh, no, this isn’t as threatening as we think it is,'" Anderson said. 

"I think we are needlessly worrying about the possibility of war because of two gentlemen who just want to finger-point and call names," Anderson added. "No, they are not going to war...It's all rhetoric."

11_20_Trump_terror_Korea President Donald Trump placed North Korea back on the state sponsors list of terrorism on Monday, November 20. Getty Images

Over the summer, Trump warned Pyongyang it would be met with "fire and fury" if it continued to threaten the U.S. In late September, during his first address to the United Nations, the president threatened to "totally destory" North Korea if it forced the U.S. to defend itself or its allies. More recently, during a trip to Seoul in early November, Trump warned Pyongang to not "underestimate" the U.S.

Anderson said such threats play right into North Korea's hand: "This is a name-calling charade at this point."

He urged Americans to look to South Korea if they're sincerely concerned about the prospect of war with Kim's regime. South Korea is no stranger to the North Korean threat. The South Korean capital, Seoul, is roughly 35 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates the country from North Korea. All males between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to serve in the military for 21 months. But, as Anderson noted, people in South Korea are "not building fallout shelters" just because North Korea has made progress with its nuclear program and long-range missile tests. 

"You need to watch and listen to what the atmosphere is within the South Korean population…If that pulse changes dramatically, then we need to be worried, but it hasn’t. We need to stop trying to diagnose the patient from the distance of Washington, D.C. If the South Koreans aren’t sweating, we need to back off," Anderson said. 

11_20_Kim_Jong_Un Despite constant threats, experts contend Kim Jong Un doesn't truly desire war with the U.S. Getty Images

Americans also might find comfort in the fact that the U.S. military is well prepared to deal with a conflict with North Korea, and that Pyongyang is well aware such a war would likely bring about an end to the ruling regime, which is precisely what it hopes to avoid. In short, Kim is more rational than many might assume

"North Korea is not an existential threat to the U.S. We are an existential threat to North Korea," Lieutenant General Jan-Marc Jouas, the former deputy commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, told Newsweek. "This is not about mutually assured destruction—this is assured destruction for North Korea if we were to get in a conflict with them." 

There is certainly the potential for many complications if a conflict with North Korea broke out, Jouas added, such as the involvement of chemical weapons. "North Korea has the second largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world and we fully anticipate they will use that," he said. 

But the U.S. military has also "trained for that and we would be able to conduct operations in a chemical environment. It just makes it more difficult," Jouas added. 

A recent analysis from the Congressional Research Service estimated as many as 300,000 could die in the first few days of fighting in a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea, even without the use of nukes. Experts outside of the government have also warned a U.S. ground invasion, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently said would be necessary to completely eliminate Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal, could turn "very bloody, very quickly."

With that said, Jouas said he's confident the U.S. would "prevail" in a conflict with North Korea, but hopes "it never comes down to that."

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