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National Security & Defense

If a Reckless Tweet Can Really Start World War Three, We’re Already Doomed

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Flaw in Corker’s Critique

President Trump’s war of words with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker is a giant pile of preventable, self-destructive folly, but there’s one part of Corker’s indictment that doesn’t quite ring true.

Corker says Trump’s “reckless threats toward other countries” could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

Look, if the United States is one hyperbolic presidential Tweet away from all-out war, we’re already doomed. If the world really is just 140 characters away from Armageddon, that’s a stinging indictment of several preceding administrations as well as the Trump administration.

What’s more, if all it took to get Kim Jong Un to attempt to launch a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile was an insult from the president, then we would have seen the missiles flying already.  I refer you to the most recent public words from the Central Intelligence Agency on this:

“There’s a clarity of purpose in what Kim Jong Un has done,” according to Yong Suk Lee, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, who discussed the escalating tensions between North Korea and the US during a conference organized by the agency at George Washington University.

“Waking up one morning and deciding he wants to nuke” Los Angeles is not something Kim Jong Un is likely to do, Lee said. “He wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”

“Kim’s long-term goal is to come to some sort of big power agreement with the US and to remove US presence from the peninsula,” Lee said, adding he wants to make North Korea relevant on the global stage again.

(In a great irony, Kim’s long-term goal sounds like the sort of thing that Trump favored as a presidential candidate.  Back in January 2016, Trump said, “We have 28,000 soldiers on the line in South Korea between the madman and them. We get practically nothing compared to the cost of this.”)

It’s also worth noting that the Korean peninsula has a lot of potential triggers for conflict beyond what the president says or tweets.

“The South Korean and North Korean Navy’s are going toe-to-toe every day … there is potential for conflict at anytime,” Lee said.

That circumstance existed before the Trump presidency and is likely to exist after the Trump presidency. What do you think is most likely to spur military conflict on the Korean peninsula: North Korean hackers, Pyongyang firing artillery at South Korean islands again, North Korea firing at a South Korean naval vessel again, or a Trump tweet?

Corker suggested that Trump’s comments about North Korea had somehow undermined an ongoing effort at diplomatic outreach:

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.

Corker’s got a higher security clearance than you and I do (then again, I don’t know what yours is) but without any specifics, it is difficult to evaluate the validity of this accusation. What is clear is that for all of his inflammatory language, the broad contours of Trump’s view on North Korea is correct: the Clinton administration provided $5 billion in aid in exchange for broken promises. The North Korean regime needs to know that the United States is no longer willing to be suckered into a phony deal, just to enjoy a false sense of security.

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