Cool heads must prevail to end N. Korean standoff

As the crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and advances has escalated dramatically over the past week, so, too, has the hell-fire and brimstone rhetoric between the two bullies-in-chief in Washington and Pyongyang.

In response to a flurry of developments punctuated by a unanimous United Nations Security Council vote to slap harsh economic sanctions on North Korea and the chilling news that the North has successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads to fit its intercontinental ballistic missiles, President Donald Trump’s loose lips flapped again uncontrollably. His rancorous threats of pre-emptive strikes have damaged U.S. credibility and complicated efforts to rein in the reckless regime of President Kim Jong Un.

Trump unleashed an acidic volley aimed at Kim hours after reports first surfaced of the North’s latest stunning technical advance toward launching a nuclear attack on the United States.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” the U.S. commander-in-chief said in off-the-cuff remarks to the press Tuesday at a work session on the opioid crisis at his country club in central New Jersey.

It did not take long for loose-cannon Kim to fire back. His official state media responded that Pyongyang is “carefully examining” a plan to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with missiles.

On Thursday, North Korea doubled down on its threat with alarmingly specific attack details: “The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the [Korean People’s Army] will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures of Japan. They will fly 3,356.7 kilometers [2,085.8 miles] for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.”

Clearly, cooler heads must prevail.

The ongoing war of words between Trump and Kim has produced nothing to defuse this nation’s most grave national security confrontation in years. Fortunately, the war of words need not morph into a war of weaponry. Fortunately, too, many level-headed and seasoned military and diplomatic leaders surround the president in the White House and in Congress, and we’re hopeful those adults in the room will prevent Trump from going rogue to even more dangerous and regrettable extremes.


Take Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, for example. No one can deny military-hero status to the valiant veteran of the Vietnam War and a prisoner of war in that conflict. Once again, as McCain did in blocking misguided health-care reform initiatives last month, the veteran senator stands as a needed thorn in Trump’s side.

“The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act, and I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act. ... It’s the classic Trump in that he overstates things,” McCain said in response to the president’s threat.

Of course, such congressional common-sense alone cannot singlehandedly influence Trump to change his set-in-stone ways.

Americans must be able to count on those closest to the president in the West Wing to tone down his dangerous improvised rants.

As he has in the ongoing scandal over Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rises again as a voice of reason among the president’s closest advisers in the expanding North Korean crisis.

Although explaining away the president’s volatile warning of a pre-emptive strike on Korea as the only language that Kim would understand, Tillerson also adopted a decidedly more diplomatic and comforting tone.

“Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours. Americans should sleep well at night,” he said. Tillerson also reiterated his call for negotiations with Korean leaders as the best hope for peacefully ending the standoff for the long term.

Now that the president has vented his anger, he would be well advised to step back, hold his tongue and listen to the tempered advice of such leaders as McCain and Tillerson. The safety of thousands of Americans in Guam in the short term and the very security of this nation in the long term could well hang in the balance.

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