Buried somewhere between the latest Washington sex scandals and stern-faced journalists asking about Russian "collusion" in last year's election is the very real possibility that the U.S. could be heading toward war with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
It's the war nobody seems to want to talk about, let alone fight.
But there may not be any viable options to avoid getting into a real live shooting war with North Korea and its brassy, baby-faced dictator.
With each new ballistic test, Kim Jong-Un seems to gain a level of credibility to back up his seemingly insane threats against a world superpower no longer headed not by the appeasement-driven Barack Obama but a far more unpredictable Donald Trump.
On Nov. 28 the communist state successfully tested a long-range missile launch that could reach any point within the continental United States, including Washington, D.C.
Japan announced it will be upgrading its missile defense systems in 2018 to compensate for North Korea's improved missile technology. Nikkei Asian Review reported that many analysts believe Japan's current system could have trouble dealing with high-powered missiles launched at a more lofted trajectory, a method that sacrifices range for height and a speedy descent.
Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned American citizens living in South Korea that now is a good time to get out.
"We're getting close to military conflict because North Korea is marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top that can not only get to America, but deliver the weapon. We're running out of time," Graham said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
In a recent interview with the BBC, U.S. Army Korean veteran David Maxwell and former Pentagon analyst Bruce Bechtol described what a major war on the Korean peninsula would look like.
‘We will see a horrible loss of human life. Probably 300,000 to 400,000 in the first week, civilian and military," they said. "Probably over 2 million by the time three weeks is up."
Watch stunning description of what war with North Korea would look like by two retired military analysts:
In the first hours there would literally be hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds and rockets fired to the South, many of them into Seoul, the military experts said.
With its reserve forces of some 6 million, North Korea is the sixth largest army in the world.
But the North Koreans only have about a two- to three-week supply of food, ammunition, fuel, etc. So all of Kim's military goals would have to be met within that small window.
"Because after that, they're living off the land," Bechtol said.
Graham said the U.S. would go to war against North Korea if it had to.
"I hope the regime understands that if President Trump has to pick between destroying the North Korean regime and the American homeland, he's going to destroy the regime," Graham said hours after the Nov. 28 missile test. "I hope China understands that also."
Not much time left
H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser, said the threat of armed conflict is real.
"I think it's increasing every day, which means we are in a race, really, not just us but all of our allies," McMaster told Brett Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum Saturday. "China has tremendous coercive power over North Korea - you can't shoot a missile without fuel, right? So there are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he's getting closer and closer, and there's not much time left."
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told an emergency Security Council meeting North Korea is "begging for war" and called for "the strongest possible measures."
In an op-ed for the Hill, retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Keeley said Kim's latest test of the Hwasong-15 illustrates how far his program has evolved and developed since 2005, when his father conducted a failed launch, and how the newest technological surges are improving Kim's capability and threat.
"The most recent test was a significant improvement on the launch just eight weeks prior - flying farther, higher and faster," he wrote. "This improvement curve, if maintained, will be impossible to curtail without direct kinetic engagement on the peninsula."
As Keeley points out, the rogue state's ICBM tests are not only intended to ratchet up tensions with Washington. Kim is looking to sell his technology to other rogue states. There are no shortage of Islamic states that might like to purchase his wares.
Countries that field North Korean-made missiles, components and technology include Pakistan, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, prior to his downfall, purchased North Korean missile plans and parts.
Michele Bachmann, former congresswoman from Minnesota, said it would be a mistake not to factor in Iran as a key driver of the U.S.-North Korean crisis.
"The will of the leader of North Korea to go to war against the U.S. or to use missiles against the U.S. must be broken," Bachmann told WND. "However, Iran is likely using the North Korean leader as both a proxy for war against the U.S. and a distraction."
Iran would like nothing more than to divert U.S. attention to dealing with North Korea while Iran solidifies and enables its hostile nuclear missile program, she said.
H.R. McMaster, told Fox News that "I don't think you or anybody else is willing to bet the farm or a U.S. city on the decision making, rational decision making of Kim Jong-un."
In the launch last Tuesday, a missile soared 2,500 miles into the atmosphere before crashing down into the Sea of Japan.
Yeo Suk-Joo, policy chief at the South Korean Defence Ministry, said: "If it were fired at a normal angle, it would be capable of flying over 8,000 miles.
Graham said it's "crazy" for the U.S. to be still sending military dependents to South Korea.
"It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea," Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation. "So, I want them to stop sending dependents, and I think it's now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea."
The U.S. has 27,123 military personnel stationed in South Korea, including 23,635 on active duty, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.