There’s been a shift in tone from the U.S. Department of Defense, and it has some in Congress downright spooked.
“It’s time to take Trump seriously as he keeps hinting, over and over, that he wants to go to war with North Korea,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut. “Many of us have begun to hear whispers of more serious war talk in and near the White House. ‘Calm before the storm’ comment sent chills. Timing of Corker’s comments, referencing possibility of World War III, might not be accidental.”
In a conversation with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Murphy further explains his trepidation. It’s a chilling dialogue.
Murphy’s statements are terrifying when one considers the temperament of the current White House occupant, a belligerent narcissist who clearly favors war over peaceful resolution.
To be clear, nuclear conflict remains unlikely; we must not be unnecessarily alarmist. But several signs point to shifting winds:
— Last month, North Korea’s foreign minister declared one of Trump’s tweets to be a “declaration of war.”
— An NBC News report revealed Trump told national security staff he wanted to drastically increase the United States nuclear arsenal.
— Last week, Trump undercut his own top diplomat, who claims to be in contact with North Korea, on Twitter, saying: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
— The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a former Trump supporter, told the New York Times the president’s reckless comments could set us “on the path to World War III.”
— In quite possibly the eeriest statement he’s made as president, Trump told reporters gathered at a military dinner earlier this month that we may be experiencing the “calm before the storm.” He did not elaborate on the remark.
Some take faith in the idea that Trump surrounds himself with experienced military brass, such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who surely know the costs of military action against a nuclear-armed North Korea.
But this gives little solace. Trump defies his top advisers constantly — just look at his contrarian action on the Paris Climate Agreement and usage of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” over his own conunselors’ objections.
Concurrently, experts on North Korea see a change in the nation’s attitude.
In September, the New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos, recounting a recent visit to the DPRK, wrote: “Our grasp of North Korea’s beliefs and expectations is not much better than its grasp of ours. To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two understand each other.”
When the New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof visited just weeks ago, he described “feeling the drums of war.” Military leadership seemed more aloof than during previous visits, he said.
In Thursday’s version of the Times‘ daily audio podcast, Kristof said decision-makers on both sides have become “too complacent” about the possibility of a cataclysmic event. War isn’t likely, he said, but there is a significant possibility of armed conflict. His message was not to alarm, but to inform.
In writing this article, that’s my message, too.
With Trump’s fiery rhetoric and an inept State Department apparatus led by a feckless, inexperienced former businessman, risk of miscalculation is at an all-time high.
We’re not out of the woods yet. Heed Murphy’s words. Though nuclear war is hardly imminent, it is certainly not, as some might claim, an impossible occurrence. ■
“Are Trump’s feuds with Tillerson and Corker a prelude to war?” (The Atlantic)
“Bob Corker says Trump’s recklessness threatens ‘World War III’” (New York Times)
“Inside North Korea, and feeling the drums of war” (New York Times)
“The Daily: Inside North Korea” (New York Times)
“The risk of nuclear war with North Korea” (New Yorker)