According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, the chances of President Donald Trump launching a military attack on Kim Jong-Un’s North Korean regime are “3 in 10.”
If the North Koreans test another nuclear weapon, he says that possibility rises — to 70 percent.
As reported in the Atlantic:
Graham said that the issue of North Korea came up during a round of golf he played with the president on Sunday. “It comes up all the time,” he said.
“War with North Korea is an all-out war against the regime,” he said. “There is no surgical strike option. Their [nuclear-weapons] program is too redundant, it’s too hardened, and you gotta assume the worst, not the best. So if you ever use the military option, it’s not to just neutralize their nuclear facilities — you gotta be willing to take the regime completely down.”
“We’re not to the tipping point yet,” he noted, but “if they test another [nuclear] weapon, then all bets are off.”
The threat of nuclear war is higher now than it’s been in decades. Two impetuous, thin-skinned leaders have their hands on the nuclear trigger, just daring the other to blink. This makes for a frightening state of affairs, one similar to the height of Cold-War-era anxiety. But mutually assured destruction only works when the key decision-makers are rational agents.
Trump and Kim aren’t known for their discretion.
That’s why it was heartening when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chose to dial back the tension, calling Tuesday for bilateral negotiations to begin without stringent prerequisites.
As reported in Foreign Policy:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson swung the door wide open to negotiations with North Korea, saying on Tuesday he is open to talks without preconditions as soon as Pyongyang signals it is ready.
“We’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said Tuesday at an event at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington. “Let’s just meet. And we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face,” he said.
Though he later appeared to suggest a condition to the offer of talks — calling for a freeze in North Korean missile tests — Tillerson’s remarks were one of the clearest diplomatic overtures to date from the Trump administration to Pyongyang. He said President Donald Trump, who has heightened fears of war with North Korea through his own verbal and Twitter volleys, “is pretty realistic” about the need to open a dialogue with Pyongyang.
“I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops,” Tillerson said. “I’m going to be confident that we’re going to be successful, but I’m also confident [Defense Secretary James] Mattis will be successful if it ends up being his turn,” he said, alluding to ongoing contingency planning for a military solution to the impasse.
In this, the U.S. State Department and White House personnel seem to be at odds. Later, the president distanced himself from Tillerson’s plan.
That’s nothing new. In October, Trump said, via tweet, that he informed Tillerson he was “wasting his time” in trying to negotiate with the North Koreans.
Additionally, rumors have swirled that Tillerson may soon be headed for an exit from the State Department. For his part, Trump has denied the rumors. However, the reports seem credible enough.
Your author believes peaceful diplomacy is the best way forward in what has quickly become a complicated morass of bombastic rhetoric. The only way the North Koreans will come to the negotiating table is if the United States gives up its prior stance requiring the Kim regime to surrender its nuclear arsenal before talks begin.
As Tillerson noted, such a thing is unlikely to occur. Holding such a precondition is almost the same as not supporting negotiation at all.
Tillerson might be the worst top diplomat in our nation’s recent history. He has gutted the very department he is tasked to lead, and has come into office with a surprising lack of diplomatic and governmental experience. But, at least for now, he’s standing for sanity amidst a sea of bloviating dotards.
Thank you, Rex, for doing your job. ■