Days after President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” tensions have remained high. On Thursday, the president doubled down on his warning, suggesting that perhaps his first comment wasn’t “tough enough.”
Senior administration officials have sent mixed messages on the subject, with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stressing diplomacy and telling Americans that they “should sleep well at night,” while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said North Korea risked “the end of its regime and the destruction of its people” if it did not “stand down.”
What follows is a collection of writing from across the political spectrum responding to the developments.
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• Charles Lipson in Real Clear Politics:
“No one knows if Trump’s strategy can change Beijing’s calculus, but his willingness to use force on the peninsula is credible in ways Obama’s and Bush’s were not.”
Mr. Lipson explains that Mr. Tillerson’s seeming contradiction of President Trump’s alarmist talk is not a sign that the White House is in “disarray.” Instead, he writes, it’s “good cop, bad cop.” Mr. Lipson admits that the situation with North Korea is dangerous, but writes that the “tepid diplomacy” of the Bush and Obama administrations “was dangerous, too.” Read more »
• Mark Tooley in National Review:
“Christian responses to public-policy challenges of today, whether Jeffress’s bellicosity or the anti-Americanism and reflexive pacifism of the religious Left, often don’t exemplify a sense of judicious responsibility.”
This week, Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas told The Washington Post that President Trump had the moral authority to “take out” the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Tooley explains why church leaders on either side of the political aisle should temper their advice on military matters. He explains why Romans 13 (a biblical passage used by some Christians to apply theological approval to questions of war) is misapplied in this instance. Read more »
• Claudia Rosett in The Hill:
“The urgent questions need to center not on how to bring North Korea to the bargaining table, but whether there are still any means short of fire and fury to bring down the Kim regime.”
Ms. Rosett argues that sanctions against North Korea, even with Russia and China nominally on board, are bound to fail. Read more »
• Rich Lowry in Politico:
“One theory is that Trump and Tillerson are deliberately playing different roles. But there’s good cop/bad cop, and then there’s Keystone Kops.”
Mr. Lowry isn’t sure that the gap between Mr. Trump’s “rhetoric of strategic impatience” and Mr. Tillerson’s “diplomatic pleading” is a deliberate good cop/bad cop strategy. Instead, Mr. Lowry would like the administration to actually pick a single strategy and seek a middle ground “toward the goal of regime change.” Read more »
• Jeet Heer in The New Republic:
“The current American president could trigger an actual war — and though the solution is urgent, no obvious one exists.”
The problem, argues Mr. Heer, isn’t North Korea; it’s the president. Things are tense but stable on the Korean Peninsula, he reminds his readers. It’s been this way since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The only variable is the addition of a volatile and hyperbolic American leader. Read more »
• Medea Benjamin in The Progressive:
“Diplomacy has worked to defuse the nuclear conflict in Iran. It can work in North Korea as well.”
Ms. Benjamin, the co-founder of Codepink for Peace, suggests that the United States consider a “freeze for freeze” strategy proposed by the Chinese. In exchange for an end to American war games with the South Korean military, North Korea would agree to freeze its nuclear and missile tests. “Given the specter of nuclear war,” she writes, “the rational alternative policy is one of de-escalation and engagement.” Read more »
• John Cassidy in The New Yorker:
“This is an Administration that sends mixed messages and spends much of its time trying to clean up messes made by the President.”
Contrary to the perception that “when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Trump usually defers to the officials he refers to as ‘my generals,’ ” the president chose to improvise on one of the most dire foreign policy dilemmas facing the nation: North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. According to Mr. Cassidy, this makes it “hard to know whether to laugh or cry.” Read more »
• Ryan Cooper in The Week:
“It is not remotely a coincidence that this crisis started gaining momentum from the second Trump took power.”
A wise president with more self-control, Mr. Cooper suggests, could preserve the “status quo” and avoid needless provocation. President Barack Obama “instinctively grasped this” and successfully avoided “the worst” during his time in the White House. President Trump could achieve the same with “calm and reason.” Read more »
• Nicholas Burns in USA Today:
“Rather than mimicking Kim’s shrill and bombastic threats, Trump should adopt more the upright, tough and determined demeanor that Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan all exemplified at the most dangerous moments of World War II and the Cold War.”
Mr. Burns, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and former under secretary of state who served presidents of both parties, advises Mr. Trump to be more “deliberate, disciplined and focused.” Perhaps, he suggests, the president should hand over the diplomatic reins to Mr. Tillerson, whose “tough, experienced and nuanced constitution seems right for an incendiary problem like this.” Read more »
• Roseanne McManus in The Washington Post:
“When [U.S. adversaries] see a president is politically weak at home, they are more likely to disregard even the most resolute presidential statements.”
The only way talk of “fire and fury” can work, writes Ms. McManus, is if the person uttering it has credibility and domestic support. Ms. McManus, who is a professor at Baruch College and a former intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, explains that when it comes to foreign policy, talk is not always cheap. The key to signaling resolve, however, is having a strong political standing with one’s own citizens. Read more »
• Timothy L. O’Brien in Bloomberg:
“Amid the president’s threats to unleash ‘fire and fury’ upon North Korea if the country’s nuclear ambitions continue to expand, look no further than Trump’s late uncle, John Trump, for a window onto Potus’s thinking.”
Say what you will about the president, but he has given a lot of thought to the threat of nuclear annihilation, writes Mr. O’Brien. Mr. Trump’s uncle, John Trump, was a “well-regarded engineer and nuclear physicist” who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. O’Brien, who interviewed Donald J. Trump for a biography, explains what a big influence his uncle had on Mr. Trump’s fixation with nuclear war. “He’s the relative who gave the president a vision of Armageddon,” Mr. O’Brien writes. Read more »
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