The United States military watched as Kim Jong-Un smoked cigarettes around the next missile his country was going to test – a test designed specifically just to provoke the United States as Americans celebrated their independence. For over an hour, the top brass of the U.S. military just watched without ever ordering a strike or calling in some kind of attack.
For then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, that must have taken a lot of restraint.
He was there to observe a rocket test, a test just like many before it. This time it was for a multi-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile itself was in the last stages of development. Meanwhile, American military leaders had ample time to look through their weapons catalogs and choose which weapon would have been perfect to use to wipe two of America's greatest annoyances off the map – North Korea's ballistic missile site and the leader who supports its development.
But no attack ever came, according to The Diplomat's Ankit Panda. The United States watched its dictator enemy pace around a missile for nearly 70 minutes before opting to do nothing.
Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, smokes a cigarette just feet from the base of an untested, liquid-fueled rocket engine.
The U.S. knows North Korea is going to do something provocative on Independence Day – they always do – but the attack on the missile platform never came as expected. Instead, the next day the United States made a precision strike on some North Korean targets that demonstrated to Kim exactly what they were capable of, and specifically pointing out that the U.S. didn't attack when it could have. After all, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wanted to "bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not to his knees."
U.S. officials believed the attack the next day sent Kim a twofold message. The first was that the United States wasn't interested in regime change. The second was that since the U.S. didn't want to explicitly kill Kim, he didn't really need to keep the weapons programs going.
Perhaps the message worked as intended – within a year, Kim would meet with President Trump in Singapore to discuss peace and denuclearization.