Opinion: Trump has no strategy, only impulse

(AP)

Carrying out a strategy of nuclear brinkmanship against North Korea without allowing it to veer into catastrophe would require a sober-minded, well-prepared and emotionally mature president at the helm.

We do not have that president. We have this one:

That Friday tweet comes after President Trump’s warning on Wednesday that he would inflict “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continues to threaten the United States. It comes after his subsequent statement Thursday that maybe his “fire and fury” comment had underplayed the situation and hadn’t been tough enough. It also comes after reassurances leaked from saner voices inside the White House that Trump’s initial rhetoric had been impulsive, unplanned and not to be taken all that seriously.

Those voices of relative reason have since fallen silent.

It is possible, I suppose, that this is all part of some elaborate, well-staged plan to address the North Korea problem, and that the White House has this thing fully under its control. But ask yourself: Has this White House shown itself the slightest bit capable of hatching, let alone executing, an elaborate, well-staged plan on any issue? The ad hoc nature of Trump’s comments, combined with confusing, contradictory statements from the State Department, compound the sense that they’re just making this up on the fly.

Then there’s the president’s comments about Iran on Thursday.

“They are not in compliance with the (nuclear) agreement and they certainly are not in the spirit of the agreement in compliance,” Trump said, “and I think you’ll see some very strong things taking place if they don’t get themselves in compliance.”

There is no evidence that Iran is not in compliance. The International Atomic Energy Association, the official monitor of the Iran deal, has certified that Iran remains in compliance. Trump’s own administration has certified the same. More crucially at the moment, if you intend to carry out a serious, carefully thought-through policy of brinkmanship with North Korea, it would be exceedingly foolish to simultaneously pick a renewed fight with Iran and with our allies who helped craft the Iranian deal.

Yet that’s what we’re doing.

This is a bad mistake. In a confrontation like this, you want to preserve your entire range of options, including peaceful and diplomatic options, and you want to leave your opponent with options as well. You want both sides to have an escape route, a means to withdraw from confrontation without humiliation. Trump is in the process of ensuring that neither side has those options.

And while backing down would be difficult at this point for Trump, it is almost impossible for Kim Jung-on. His regime’s very existence depends on never showing weakness or fear. The likelihood that it will now turn into a docile little citizen of the world order, surrendering either its nuclear or missile capability, is nil.

And once begun, of course, war becomes a spiral of chaos. Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would likely be killed in the opening hours, a toll that would rise to multiple millions if the fighting goes nuclear. China could also get drawn into the struggle, because it is not likely to sit back and watch as the United States conquers its North Korean client state in a region that it considers its own.

Now, it’s true that brinkmanship can be and has been used successfully by previous U.S. administrations. In fact, the strategy was given its name back in the heart of the Cold War era, when it was formalized by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. It was Dulles who, in a Life magazine profile, laid it out in blunt terms:

“The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art. If you cannot master it, you inevitably get into war. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.”

In 1954-55, when China was threatening to invade and claim the islands of Quemoy and Matsu off the coast of Taiwan, Dulles put that strategy to work by warning the Chinese that if they attacked those islands, they would be met with the full force of American military power, including perhaps atomic weapons, against the Chinese mainland. The Chinese thought about it, weighed what they hoped to gain against what they had to lose, and then abandoned their invasion plans.

But consider the circumstances. Dulles was a seasoned statesman, with a good read on his opponents. His grandfather and uncle had both served as secretaries of state. His brother was the director of the CIA. Dulles himself had 35 years of diplomatic experience by the time he became secretary of state.

Today, we have former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson in that role.

We also have no ambassador to South Korea, because the Trump administration hasn’t bothered to nominate one yet. At the State Department we have no assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs; at the Defense Department, we have no assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs. In both cases, the Trump administration also hasn’t bothered to nominate anyone.

Now let’s look up the chain of command. The president to whom Dulles reported was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had served as supreme commander of allied forces in World War II. Eisenhower had seen war first hand; as a leader and a warrior, he had nothing that he needed to prove to anyone. His strengths as a military leader had been his judgment, his willingness to prepare and plan, and his calm demeanor that instilled confidence in others. He carried those attributes with him into the White House.

In short, he was everything that Donald Trump is not, and vice versa.

In the case of Quemoy and Matsu, those attributes — experience at top levels, careful planning and a demeanor that inspired confidence — made the policy of brinkmanship successful. Before confronting the Chinese, for example, Dulles and Eisenhower had sought a resolution of support from Congress, so that there would be no question about American unity and will. That resolution passed by strong bipartisan votes of 85 to 3 in the Senate and 409 to 3 in the House, giving Eisenhower the vote of confidence he needed.

Again, that’s a stark contrast with Trump, who is battling leaders of his own party even as he also takes on North Korea, Iran, the media, pollsters, his own Justice Department, his own State Department, our European allies, the FBI and just about everyone not named Vladimir Putin or Sean Hannity.

In short, he is not a man who picks his battles carefully or strategically. To him, conflict is not a necessary evil or a means to an end, it is his natural state of existence. And as president of the United States and commander in chief, he has been given the authority to drag the whole country, maybe even the whole world, along with him. This could get rough.

Reader Comments 0

1212 comments
skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

Alt right  white supremacists with helmets, torches and arms  carrying Nazi flags surrounding  a black church and beating up counter protesters have no constitutional protections 

Fan4500
Fan4500

@OriginalProf Why? You don't believe people have the right to assemble? You know, free speech. 1st Amendment?

Any of these ring a bell?

DanBatwings
DanBatwings

@Fan4500 @OriginalProf No one is condemning their right to gather. However, we can condemn their hateful speech, and you have declined to do so. You are a fake Christian, and Jesus would disown you.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Hotels in the Mid Town were advised to count all their towels once the Netroots crowd leaves  

justaniceguy
justaniceguy

Meanwhile there's a Trump rally going on in charlottesville...

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Infraredguy 

Hotels in the Mid Town were advised to count all their towels once the Netroots crowd leaves  

They called and told you that?

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Infraredguy

Sooooooooooooooooooo, you can't take what you dish out.

LOL!

The very definition of a snowflake. 

honested
honested

@Infraredguy 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Your comic genius wasn't impaired by the terrible head injury.

Cherokee51
Cherokee51

"So the counter protesters had no blame in the incident?"

No you disgusting piece of work, they didnt.

Do you have any morals at all?

justaniceguy
justaniceguy

So the folks there to protest hate and racism are to blame?

justaniceguy
justaniceguy

Who showed up armed wearing flak jackets and who didn't?

td1234
td1234

@Cherokee51 Just proves how un-american you are and how much you hate the Constitution. 

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

@td1234 @Cherokee51 Constitution had nothing to do with what went on last night and today in Virginia. Nazis had a right to rally and show their hate for Jews too. 

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Fan4500

I thought you were referring to the Charleston Church killing in 2015.

It was clearly a reference to the recent mosque bombing in Minn.

P.S. You may need to take some time off.

Just suggestin'.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Look, believing that cops should be held to account for killing unarmed black men is EXACTLY LIKE declaring allegiance to Adolf Hitler, amirite?

td1234
td1234

Do you progs believe  the white nationalist have the right to protest (legally) and spew whatever hate speech they want to spew at a legal rally and do you believe the government should not condemn their speech? 

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@td1234  so you deflect to this when asked a question regarding Trump and the mosque bombing in Minn LOL

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

Protesters last night surrounding a Black church  with torches and screaming alt-right and white supremacy slogans. They also were condemning immigrants. Now who instigated that hatred of immigrants and whipped up his base into an anti- immigrant fervor using our  esteemed senator as a prop along with sleezeball Cotton?

TetoLeo
TetoLeo

Skruorangeclown,

If you think white supremacist groups just started hating immigrants since Donald Trump being elected you show your ignorance of the group.

gotalife
gotalife

This is what going backwards looks like.


We can do better.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Netroots in Atlanta is a hoot, headlined by Big Chief Al Gore and his sidekick Pocahontas, the gathering of  Democrats and Left Wing Liberals started with a demonstration of how to eat your own, Stacey Evans Democratic candidate for Governor was shouted off the stage before she could even delivery her speech with shouts of BLM, the word to Liberal Democrats is: Keep it up and experience another " no way he gets to 270 " & Ossoff up by 7 "  LOL  

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Infraredguy 

  a demonstration of how to eat your own

They called and told you that?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I just want to note that I know Charlottesville and this area of Virginia. C-ville is a tourist-y town that seems quite suburban, proud of the UVA campus nearby designed by T. Jefferson. It is not "rural" at all, nor are its surrounding areas, but upper middle-class. The alt-right types who demonstrated there are definitely outsiders. 

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@OriginalProf  I enjoyed Charlottesville anytime I went to visit..But I stayed pretty close to campus

gapeach101
gapeach101

It's amazing no one has been shot by one of those protestors.

TetoLeo
TetoLeo

Repugnant but not unacceptable.

People have first amendment rights and are as free to be as ignorant as they choose.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@TetoLeo

They have the right to display such regalia without being imprisoned, it's true.

But they don't have the right to avoid angry confrontations.

TetoLeo
TetoLeo

Visual Cortex,

Exactly!

They should expect anger, but they do have a right to do so safely as well.

Words are never a reason for violence.

DanBatwings
DanBatwings

@Visual_Cortex @TetoLeo We have the right to condemn their speech, but Fan4500 will not do so, despite repeated chances to do so. Go back and check to see where he said he disagrees with the racists. You will not find one post condemning bigotry.