War of words

They can lead to real wars

"I think that's why the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang is beginning to become louder and more threatening."

--Rex Tillerson

The secretary of state could've been talking about his boss, too. Talk about louder and more threatening. Whatever happened to American presidents speaking softly and carrying a big stick?

Once again, this president's Cabinet members have had to walk back some of his more outrageous statements. When you're dealing with a rabid dog like Kim Jong Un, the pudgy little dictator of North Korea, is it wise to throw rocks? Better to keep him in your sight--never let him out of it--until you can get yourself and everybody else to safety.

When Donald Trump went before the press and said if Pyongyang threatened America again it was inviting "fire and fury like the world has never seen," he sounded more like one of those over-the-top weekly press releases from the North Koreans. Is this what The Donald meant when he said he was more presidential than any president since Lincoln?

We understand that the new(ish) president is still learning on the job--this is one of the dangers of electing a non-politician to the nation's top political post--but somebody should inform him soonest that the president's words aren't just words. They often lead to consequences.

A few weeks ago the Pentagon was wondering if we were already at war when the president tweeted something about having conferred with his generals and decided that this country would never allow--

What? What? For nine minutes the tweeter-in-chief went silent.

America would never allow what? For Pyongyang to get deliverable nukes? What were the spooks in North Korea advising their boss during this break?

It turns out, in the second part of the tweet, that the president was talking about transgender people in uniform. (Another presumed policy change that his people walked back.) But for nine minutes any number of assumptions by our enemies abroad could have plunged this country into war. All because a president doesn't understand that his words have meaning. Somebody should tell the commander-in-chief that this isn't the WWE and he isn't fake wrestling Vince McMahon any longer.

Nobody ever accused Donald Trump of being a conservative. He's a populist. He can do conservative things, certainly, but only if he thinks they help his popularity. But we can think of nothing that would harm that popularity more--today and 100 years from now--than if he blusters his way into a needless war in which millions of Koreans die. Not to mention tens of thousands of American soldiers stationed in South Korea and Guam and maybe hundreds of thousands more in San Francisco or Hawaii.

Which brings us to a memory: Some inky wretches had one of our meetings in San Francisco some 10-15 years ago. A room full of newspaper types, maybe 800-900 people in all, were listening to a lunch speaker named Colin Powell. He had some rank, medals and a worldwide reputation. The man won the first Gulf War. During the Q&A somebody asked him what we would do if North Korea ever used a nuclear weapon. Back then it was only theory, and South Korea would have been the target. Who knew what the future held?

As Colin Powell, head of the joint chiefs of staff at the time, started to respond, the room got very quiet. Even the waiters stopped clanging dishes as they cleared the tables. They too wanted to hear the general's response.

Colin Powell said that even the North Koreans knew that after such an event, their country would cease to exist in 45 minutes.

Which, Gentle Reader, is exactly what the current president said last week. But it is best left unsaid in public--and stated very clearly in private. If they make Seoul or Guam or San Francisco disappear in a flash, they would likely lose their entire country in what would probably be the greatest single event of war carnage in world history.

A secretary of state named George Shultz once noted, "If the CIA denies something, it's denied." It was the perfect response to almost any question about American intentions. It says nothing. It tells the enemy nothing. The cloak-and-dagger types on the other side can argue for hours about its meaning and come to nothing. Yet it doesn't provoke. It's a master statement of diplomacy. And this president can learn from such statements.

As always in a crisis, let us think on Margaret Thatcher. She was a real conservative--in style, politics and party--who once advised that being powerful was like being a lady. If you have to say you are, you aren't.

These are dangerous waters. For some Americans in uniform, literally so. We should all keep our heads. Especially those who have been ratcheting up the excitement. Some of us would rather live in less interesting times.

Editorial on 08/13/2017


Lifelonglearner says...

Those who elected President Trump because "he tells it like it is" or at least their version of the facts, may soon relearn the lesson that sometimes silence is golden.

Posted 13 August 2017, 2:34 p.m. Suggest removal

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