Mattis' message: US is not intimidated by North Korea
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AP) — He inspected a mock-up nuclear warhead, but there was no Kim Jong Un lookalike posing for photographs. He chatted with nuclear missile launch officers in their underground command post, but there was no talk of unleashing nuclear hell on North Korea.
A subtle, unspoken message of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' visit to this nuclear weapons base Wednesday was that America is a mature nuclear power not intimidated by threats from an upstart North Korean leader who flaunts his emerging nuclear muscle.
Mattis was quietly reminding North Korea it has no match for a U.S. nuclear arsenal that, while old, is still capable of sudden and swift destruction if Kim were to throw the first nuclear punch.
In his only public comments, Mattis cast his visit as part of an effort to ensure that the U.S. maintains the kind of nuclear firepower that convinces any potential nuclear opponent that attacking would be suicidal.
"You can leave no doubt at all," he told reporters traveling with him. "Don't try it. It won't work. You can't take us out."
Mattis was taking such a restrained approach he barred reporters from his town hall-style exchange with airmen on this base that hosts nuclear-capable B-52 bombers as well as the 91st Missile Wing, which has nearly 150 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles standing ready for launch at a moment's notice.
Today, Mattis was getting classified briefings at Strategic Command, just outside of Omaha, Neb. Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the head of Strategic Command, would be in command of nuclear forces in the event President Donald Trump ordered them into combat.