A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed eager to ease tensions with Pyongyang. “We’re trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy,” Tillerson said at a State Department briefing. He added, “We would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea.”
“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!”
I’m sympathetic to the argument that it’s a mistake to treat every presidential tweet as an important breaking news story, but when a rogue nuclear power is firing missiles over Japan, and Donald Trump is publicly suggesting he no longer believes in diplomacy, we can’t simply pretend the president’s Twitter account is irrelevant.
Because it’s a safe bet Kim Jong-un is reading it.
To the extent that the details matter, the United States hasn’t provided North Korea with financial assistance in nearly a decade, and the last round of direct talks between the two countries ended in 2012. Trump’s tweet makes it sound like diplomacy and financial aid aren’t working, but in reality, neither have been part of the U.S. policy towards North Korea in recent years.
But even putting these relevant details aside, there are a variety of questions the White House should try to answer today, starting with an obvious one: if the president is convinced diplomacy is “not the answer,” what is? While we’re at it, did Trump discuss this new posture with U.S. allies this morning, or is he just winging it again based on something he saw on television?
Trump’s online missive comes the day after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters, in reference to North Korea, “I think something serious has to happen…. Enough is enough.” Is this part of a coordinated American escalation, or are Trump and his team blowing off steam?
Nuclear diplomacy in 140 characters is a very bad idea.
Postscript: Steve Bannon – remember him? – recently said, in reference to U.S. policy towards North Korea, “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here…. They got us.”
Bannon, of course, is no longer part of the White House team, but if anyone in the West Wing has a different foreign policy vision, I’d love to hear more about it.