First, Kim Jong Un shot off his missiles, then Donald Trump shot off his mouth. Now we’re in a worsening war of words that could put millions of lives in jeopardy.
We’re not blaming Trump for North Korea’s dangerous, stupid and virtually suicidal decisions to build intercontinental ballistic missiles and arm them with nuclear warheads. The Hermit Kingdom, under the leadership of a megalomaniac third-generation emperor, is continuing the work of Kim’s father and grandfather. Getting in the face of the United States appears to be a genetic defect that this branch of the Kim family passes along.
We’re not going to suggest President Trump shouldn’t set parameters for North Korea’s conduct. After all, North Korea shares a peninsula with one of our most valuable allies and is in close proximity to another – both nations we have pledged to defend.
We will, however, point out that Trump likely made matters worse by interrupting his golf vacation to say, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
As if on cue, North Korea then threatened Guam – a United States territory and home to two major military bases. Red line drawn, red line crossed. Now what?
First we’d like reassurance that the adults are in charge. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to calm the roiling waters by saying, “I have no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the past few days,” insisting Americans should “sleep well at night.” He’s been building a “peaceful pressure” coalition for weeks and started a diplomatic tour of Asia on Sunday.
Last Saturday, Nikki Haley shepherded the toughest economic sanctions yet against Kim’s regime through the UN, with the support of China and Russia.
But it’s apparent there are two camps in the White House, and they’re often at odds. Those who prefer diplomacy say more diplomatic pressure can be applied. The other camp, which includes most of Trump’s security team, says the Kim family doesn’t understand diplomacy and it’s time to get tough.
Defense Secretary James Mattis embodied that sentiment Wednesday afternoon by saying North Korea is risking “destruction of its people.”
The generals should stand down and let the diplomats lead. Ramping up the bluster does nothing more than lower ourselves to Kim’s level. Worse, by making idle threats we make America appear weaker.
America lost prestige when Barack Obama drew his infamous “red line” in the sands of Syria then watched Bashar al-Assad prance past it with impunity. By promising “fire and fury,” but delivering only hot air, we’re in danger of losing stature in the eyes of those anxious to test us.
We’re not sure Trump reads books, but we suggest a biography of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the most popular and courageous presidents of the 20th century. As TR once said “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” In today’s parlance, that might be “Stop Tweeting and send the Seventh Fleet.”
Americans unite in the face of any enemy. But most Americans aren’t there yet, mainly because North Korea has been threatening us for at least 30 years. A poll earlier this week showed only 35 percent of Americans are confident Trump will properly handle North Korea. Intemperate words justify those concerns.
There are 76 million people living on the Korean peninsula; Seoul, a city of 10 million, is within range of North Korean artillery. Any conflict in Korea risks tens of thousands of civilian casualties. There are also 23,500 U.S. service members in Korea, plus 39,000 in Japan and 6,000 on Guam.
Trump needs to let his diplomats do their jobs; let his administration speak softly and with one voice. It’s enough to know we have a big stick.