Although President Trump has repeatedly stated that going to war with North Korea is not his preferred option, his statements on Sunday would seem to indicate that it’s the only outcome he’s now open to pursuing.
Donald Trump once again took to the social media platform Twitter to convey his foreign policy stance, claiming that American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was wasting his time by pursuing talks with Kim Jong un’s despotic regime.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…” the President wrote on Twitter, adding, “…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
A few hours later, the president returned to the subject on Twitter, calling out past presidents for their failure to curb North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and claiming that he won’t follow in their footsteps.
“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.” He wrote.
Running in contrast to the President’s statements, Rex Tillerson was in Beijing this weekend, where he addressed his ongoing efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula through talks, as he and other prominent officials in Trump’s administration have continued to claim that the United States seeks a de-escalation of tensions that can only be brought about by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong un, surrendering his nuclear arsenal and ceasing his pursuit of further weapons of mass destruction.
“We’ve made it clear that we hope to resolve this through talks,” Tillerson said.
“I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” he continued. “They’re a little overheated right now, and I think we need to calm them down first.” When asked about the president’s statements, he again used the term “overheated” to describe them.
A day prior, Tillerson has disclosed to the media that the United States had engaged North Korea directly about their nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, but noted that Kim’s regime had thus far expressed no interest in opening a dialogue. This was a first for the Trump administration, as no previous contact with the North Korean government had been disclosed.
Without lines of communication between the two nations, that means the rhetoric seen in the media between Kim Jong un and the American President has accounted for the majority of the diplomatic interactions between the governments these two men lead, at least until just recently. President Trump, who has taken to calling Kim Jong un “Rocket Man” in both social media and public statements, has adopted a significantly more aggressive stance toward North Korea in recent months, a stark contrast from those employed by the presidents Trump listed in his tweet.
However, some fear that his aggressive statements and professional wrestler bravado may force Kim into conflict in order to save face, effectively removing the possibility of a negotiated peace on the Korean peninsula due to Kim Jong un’s unwillingness to be seen publicly bowing to the American president’s pressure.
Others have applauded the president’s hard line on an enemy that champions the idea of America’s destruction not only in statements, but in state-funded propaganda.
The big question posed by President Trump’s statements on Sunday, however, isn’t about rhetoric, but action. If he truly believes negotiation to be off the table with the Kim regime, what outcome other than war can remain?
It has become increasingly clear that Kim Jong un will not voluntarily disarm in the face of threats alone, as he seems to believe becoming a nuclear power is his nation’s best hope at securing a seat at the negotiation table for further international trade. To end his nuclear program now, Kim would be relenting to the authority of a foreign leader, admitting that he and his government had been defeated by financial sanctions, and would be leaving his nation in a far worse economic position than it was when he started. In many ways, it seems more likely that Kim would choose to die, rather than suffer that kind of public failure and embarrassment.
For now, it would appear that the United States is content to employ a two-faced policy regarding North Korea, with the president publicly deriding the possibility of diplomacy, while the nation’s top diplomat continues to pursue it. It remains unclear, however, if this is an intentional affectation of “good cop, bad cop” diplomacy, or if the president’s policy decisions are not being actively honored by high-ranking officials within his administration.
It’s worth noting that the president did use his social media statements to credit Tillerson as “wonderful,” making it seem that the Secretary of State is not acting beyond the guidelines laid out for him by the president.
As for the possibility of diplomatic discussions between American officials and Pyongyang, Tillerson said only, “We are probing, so stay tuned.”
Image courtesy of the White House