President Trump: Maybe 'fire and fury' statement on North Korea wasn't tough enough

From a strategic standpoint, while intelligence reports released to the media indicate that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons that can hit U.S., this is a really not quite the case. Nuclear and ballistic missile experts, however, say the world is NOT on the brink of a Third World War. Certainly, the position that North Korea could hit the U.S., meaning mainland U.S. territory is perhaps at least 18-months or more away based on current considerations and situation, there is a limited capability to target U.S. territorial possession such as Guam and other Pacific atolls. Similarly, however, if there was any chance of nuclear war to occur, it would break out by accident, not by design planned or by design. Likewise, the situation increases when we look conventionally to the Korean peninsula and the where North Korea has maintained its position to take back the South since the end of the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953.

As I noted, earlier this week President Trump said he will launch “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea has promised to get its revenge “a thousand fold” on the U.S. for any attack. Hence the question is — is the world really on the brink of a Third World War? Experts say probably not, while pointing out that it is easy to see how we might get there. While a general consensus in recent days has been that the President’s statements are bluster, it is very important that the President made the statement that he made about the U.S. being and having a credible threat of military force … reason being, you have to understand that you can’t get to a “diplomatic solution” without the credible threat of the use of military force, in order to back up that threat.

The latest upsurge and acceleration is the essentially an ongoing ratcheting-up of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, that has been going on since at least 2013. The most recent escalation came after a report that claimed North Korea had developed nuclear weapons small enough that they could be travel all the way to the U.S. mainland and detonated. Following that realization came a flurry of bellicosity by North Korean President Kim Jung Un.

Crucially, this statement appears to have been formulated in response to the U.S. flying two B1-B bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Monday, a repeat of a similar operation carried out in July — and therefore not in response to President Trump’s warning. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, moved to calm the situation and advised the U.S. public not to worry, while at the same time leaving no question for Pyongyang to even question U.S. resolve or President Trump’s position to protect and defend strategic U.S. interests and our allies.

Further, following several weeks of the dear leader’s constant barrage of fiery rhetoric; President Trump needed to slap him down from a position of force. The President’s “fire and fury” statement is unprecedented in U.S. relations with North Korea and markedly similar to the kind of rhetoric that typically emerges from Pyongyang. North Korea appeared to call the US leader’s bluff within hours of his statement, announcing it was exploring the possibility of attacking Guam, the U.S. Pacific territory that is home base for major components of the U.S. Pacific Command forces to include, Naval forces and U.S. Air Force strategic bombers. To that end, today, President Trump reinstated the seriousness of his previous position stating that his “fire and fury” statement on North Korea may not have been tough enough.

Prior to his statement, the message to North Korea of de-escalation appears to not have satisfied or deterred President Trump resolve to keep the pressure on the regime, as he awoke up and tweeted that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was “more powerful than ever before” — though adding that he hoped never to use it.

So now the political-left, Democrats and the extreme mainstream media are freaking out unlike ever before questioning where the President’s comments and tweets would instigate and provoke the hysteria that the world is about to get destroyed by a nuclear war. Up front, the answer is no … probably not, according to those of us and a wide array of military experts who follow international military affairs, conflict and national security strategy and power. While Trump’s comments offer a significant and meaningful change in the rhetoric being exchanged between North Korea and the U.S. — but it is in fact critically necessary to reassert U.S. dominance, regional and international strategic policy that languished under eight-years of the Obama whose policy of “strategic pause” is mainly responsible for North Korea’s substantial and unabated escalation in its nuclear and ballistic missile advancements and capability. And as always, to demonstrate U.S. resolve and commitment to the region and our allies and foremost our strategic interests. All of which is coupled with and has been overtly, covertly and clandestinely demonstrated in wide-ranging shows of force and military dominance and superiority.

Furthermore, it should be assured that while President Trump’s comments certainly have changed the fundamental calculus on the Korean peninsula, toward the North, in the South, and regionally in just a few short days from what it had been under the Obama administration — that primarily being from a position of weakness. “What’s obviously changed is the Trump factor and he has in a way emulated the North Korea bellicosity approach to actually countering it not only in language but both diplomatically and militarily.

Even the President’s Trump’s lecturing of Kim Jung Un, is just one among many — albeit that of the Commander in Chief — in the White House, and is by far the most aggressive. Likewise, on Wednesday Rex Tillerson said while there was no “imminent threat” directly to the U.S. mainland and that “Americans should sleep well at night”, he explained the impact of why the President had adopted such a confrontational tone because this was language that Kim Jong-Un could understand. That does not mean there was ‘not’ reason to be concerned. North Korea demonstrates better than any nation that bluster is important.

To further, reassure North Korea that the U.S. is serious, Secretary of Defense, retired General James Mattis, reiterate the President’s position, backing him up further by stating; Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis echoed his the President’s fiery warning Wednesday to the North Korea dictator with his own harsh rhetoric … this time, the words came from a battle-tested, four-star U.S. Marine Corps general. Mattis demanded that North Korea should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people. He angrily stated North Korea must choose to stop isolating itself and stand-down its pursuit of nuclear weapons and that North Korean regime should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

Mattis provided a powerful follow-up to Trump’s warning that Pyongyang would face “fire and fury” should it continue to test missiles, build nuclear warheads and threaten to attack the United States. Lest anyone think Trump was speaking without the counsel of his top military man, Mattis said President Trump is well aware of the depth of the North Korean threat.

The overall effort at play here against North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric is what is known as strategic influence and strategic PSYOP, short for psychological operations, and power projection and is carefully crafted to strategically influence and affect the capability a hostile nation can exert over other nations or organizations or military entities through the use of coordinated information campaigns and psychological operations.

Still the concern is first, could conflict break-out at some point in the near future? Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the situation is how impossible that question to answer; there are simply many disparate elements, each of them unpredictable on their own and amounting to a situation in which almost anything could happen. Nevertheless for the U.S. is if the calculus changes, is what is being introduced a greater level of unpredictability and rhetorical tension.

This is that the U.S. must be viable, flexible, and capable and having the wherewithal of addressing each and every event and situation. At the same time the U.S. must not be either predictable or to some degree unpredictable, so as to invite missteps on the part of North Korea. This is why General Mattis essentially said; “Make no mistake, if you want to go to war with America … you will be committing suicide …”

While our strategic influence and strategic PSYOP campaign is targeted at both North Korea’s leadership and secondly the region, there is always domestic blow-back and domestic consumption which is a by-product of modern hi-tech instantaneous communications, the Internet and social media. Within the U.S. Americans specifically President Trump’s supporters might see this as a pro — taking a harder line and putting pressure on North Korea and conceivably on China, by eventuating the threat. But equally, that hardline rhetoric is seen as provoking and does not wash well with U.S. with the President’s opponents, Democrats, and the extreme mainstream media. To them is viewed as and it creates a sort of echo chamber of inflated rhetoric. And of course, with Donald Trump in power, rhetoric tends to dominate the debate — and often becomes the debate. The political-left always take the stance that if you raise the rhetoric then there is greater worry that the chance of action in the case of North Korea is increased. Their response and solution is almost always appeasement, acquiescence and negotiating the options of concessions which in all due respect has brought us to this situation thanks to both Presidents Clinton and Obama – with Clinton orchestrating the methods of appeasement to allow North Korea to ratchet up its nuclear weapons development program and Obama who policy of strategic patience did nothing to keep it in check.

The reality is it all really comes down to whether North Korea believes that President Trump’s statements actually mean anything. If he is just blustering — an activity they know well — then very little has changed; if they think that the rhetorical stance is something that puts them in danger — then conflict could be averted.

While the question continues to be how might war break out? As noted previously, the easy answer is if any conflict were to happen, it is likely that war would break out by accident, not by design as planned, particularly North Korea. Trump’s comments might be mostly powerful as rhetoric, again to back-up much needed resolve — but it should be remembered that wars have been started and fought over lesser rhetorical statements and or actions be they economic, political, diplomatic or military. It’s worth noting that, of course, most people are still against the idea of nuclear wars. That is a fairly safe assumption and means that, whatever is said, nobody is going to choose to drop an atomic bomb on another country just to be able to do so. It may become more complicated to the point that concerns of miscalculations are higher, so that probably is where the danger is. In a very complicated situation, the fear is that of an unpredictable misstep or message that triggers some kind of chain reaction by one country or the other.

It is for this reason the U.S. must proceed, negotiate, and always be in a position to deal from a position of strength. At the same time, what that means is when a conflict starts — when there’s a shoot-out on the maritime demarcation line or along a border, for instance — you have a way to defuse tensions as soon as possible. That is easier to overcome when a nation is dealing from a position of strength. It is an automatic lose when you are not in that position. It is dangerous, the situation we have right now, especially when you have so many states with different interests involved – the North Korea, the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia to a sizeable degree.

If war were to happen, the U.S. would ostensibly win it — that much is obvious, and is a key factor in the U.S. military’s thinking. But that part of the world is surrounded by many of the biggest armed forces in the world, and any conflict would be very, very bloody to say the least.

So the other question is, what is President Trump and the U.S. up to – certainly our military plans, strategy, intentions and courses of action are highly classified and they should be. I would say that based on my military experience that the President’s comments are part of some strategic master plan. Further, the very fact that he is talking about the country is an important break from the Obama administration’s commitment to what it called strategic patience, as previously addressed — which was really hard to distinguish from and view as a policy of strategic neglect, because it was.

President Trump to his credit takes North Korea seriously but does it in such an extraordinary manner; in fact I would even go as far as to think of Donald Trump as a “strategic genius.” Certainly his latest comments may very well be evidence of a clearly though-thoroughly thought out strategic plan. Likewise, the fact that the President is surrounded by generals and senior leaders, bring credibility to how he engages. I can tell you, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson do not want war — precisely because they are the most acutely aware of the damage it might do. One of the ironies in the nature of warfare is that it’s the generals and admirals that are always trying to prevent the outbreak of military conflict, as they through and because of their experience tend to look at alternative ways of dealing with what is actually going on.

To that end from where we stand today, strategically, Pyongyang’s rhetoric, must be considered to be nuclear blackmail or a form of diplomatic hostage taking, which carries little weight and credibility without demonstrated commitment or action. Meaning he is required to prove it, by sticking to his word.

Kim Jung Un’s declaration to fire a salvo of missiles to impact 18-miles off the shores of Guam is now his commitment. He owns that promise … if he fails to deliver, his word(s) means nothing. That said, North Korea’s real strategic intent as always in all of these saber-rattling situations, is essentially a desperate move to sue for peace in exchange for international financial aid, be it food, fuel, reduced sanctions, etc. In this case, he has the additional option of using the nuclear option law suit. North Korea’s historical record had been to continuously make bold and brazen threats, use of hardline military rhetoric, or as in recent years threatened nuclear blackmail, until it gets what wants.

In the past, the UN and the U.S., particularly under the Clinton and Obama administrations, always acquiesced, and agreed to terms and demands through negotiations that actually implemented the means to hand Pyongyang the keys to its current nuclear capabilities and status in exchange for a promise of aid, under the guise of Obama’s strategic patience. Worse, both Clinton and Obama bolstered the Communist regime’s legitimacy which in turn was bolstered because of Obama’s acceptance of a nuclearized ICBM capability. Again, both Clinton and Obama acquiesced and gave them that.

We will see what transpires in the coming days and weeks, based on Kim Jung Un’s recent declaration that sound dialogue is not possible and so North Korea will surround Guam with enveloping fire. President Trump challenged that rhetoric again today in his latest comment reminding Kim Jung Un that the U.S. brings to bear a wide-range and full force of American military capability. Finally, perhaps greatest weapon in his quiver along with his “strategic rhetoric” is that it is backed by the diplomatic and operational stances of Secretary Tillerson and General Mattis, respectively. Most importantly, we also need to at a minimum understand this — North Korea is not going to attack us, despite their rhetoric, Pyongyang knows we will respond and adjust accordingly. The U.S. is serious, the most powerful military options in the world are on the table, and more than anything, they are now dealing with a fundamental strategic shift, from that of the last eight-years. Let’s be clear, if Kim Jung Un launches an attack, or fires a shot at or against any of our allies, or at Guam — the North Korea regime is over…and they know that.

Jim Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel, serving nearly 30-years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer and special mission intelligence officer with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare. He served combat and combat-support tours in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as on numerous special operations and special mission intelligence contingencies in Central America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. He served as a special mission intelligence officer assigned to multiple Joint Special Operations units, and with the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Task Force, as well as in international and foreign advisory positions. He served as Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) during the peak years of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism. He is a former White House National Security Council staffer and a former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. He served as a senior advisor to the Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and is Vice President of the Special Ops-OPSEC -- which provides strategic and operational security analysis and assessments to governmental and private entities, as well as media organizations on national security issues, policy, and processes. He currently provides advisory and consulting services on national security, international strategic policy, and strategy assessments for the U.S. and foreign private sector and governments entities, media groups and outlets, and to political groups, forums, and political candidates. He is an author and writer providing regular commentary and opinion to national and local TV, radio networks, and for both print and online publications, as well as speaking engagements to business, political, civic and private groups on national security matters – focusing on international strategic policy and engagement, and strategic intelligence, and subject matter expertise on special mission intelligence and operations, counter-terrorism, and asymmetric warfare and conflict.