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Report: White House Wants More Military Options for North Korea

The Trump White House wants the military to provide more options for attacking North Korea, but the Pentagon is wary of giving them too many:

The White House has grown frustrated in recent weeks by what it considers the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide President Trump with options for a military strike against North Korea, according to officials, the latest sign of a deepening split in the administration over how to confront the nuclear-armed regime of Kim Jong-un.

The national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, believes that for Mr. Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, the United States must have well-developed military plans, according to those officials.

But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.

It is somewhat encouraging that the administration is divided over attacking North Korea, but this story is also another piece of evidence that McMaster is determined to threaten an attack that would lead to disaster. When a president and his National Security Advisor are clamoring for military options like this, that strongly suggests that they are more than willing to use them. The White House obviously wants to make everyone believe that they would resort to military action, and an attack against North Korea would be so reckless and costly that none of the states involved can dismiss the possibility that it will happen. It certainly sends the message to North Korea that an attack could be coming, and the more “credible” that threat seems the greater the danger that North Korea tries to “pre-empt” that attack. That would still lead to a catastrophic outcome that could have easily been avoided if the White House weren’t so eager to signal its willingness to start a war. Even if Trump and McMaster are bluffing about an attack, they may be bluffing so convincingly that they trigger a major war anyway.

The truth is that there is no military option against North Korea that comes at an acceptable cost, and a responsible administration would not pretend otherwise. The fact that any kind of attack is being seriously considered is a sign of how unmoored from the real world the administration’s policy is, and it shows an alarming lack of judgment on the part of both Trump and McMaster that things have reached this point. It isn’t all that comforting to know that Mattis and Tillerson have been counseling against a “bloody nose” strike, since Trump has repeatedly ignored their recommendations when they have urged him not to do provocative and reckless things on other issues.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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