Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday rebuffed White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s claim to a liberal magazine that “there’s no military solution” for North Korea’s nuclear threats.
Bannon unloaded in an interview published late Wednesday by The American Prospect. He hammered the importance of what he called the “economic war with China,” dubbing the tensions with Pyongyang a “sideshow” and rejecting the notion there’s a military solution.
Asked Thursday about those comments, Tillerson and Mattis pushed back.
While saying he did not want to comment specifically on Bannon’s interview, Tillerson said the threat from Pyongyang had “to be backed by a strong military consequence if North Korea chooses wrongly.”
He noted that a military option is not the preferred course and allies continue to work to bring pressure on North Korea through other means.
Mattis also said there would be strong military consequences for the North Korean regime, echoing past statements that an attack on Guam or any other U.S. land would mean war.
Source: Fox News
Bottom line: There is much speculation in official Washington today about why President Donald Trump’s top political strategist would a) give an impromptu interview to a far-Left political magazine; and b) undermine his president boss in the process. Trump’s recent “fire and fury” pledge in response to a North Korean military provocation was about as direct as it gets; for an aide to come behind him and now intimate that the president was bluffing is not only stupid, politically, but potentially dangerous as well. Pyongyang no doubt hinges on everything the U.S. president is saying and, more importantly doing, in preparation for a future preemptive strike, should that become necessary.
What happens in the next week or so will be interesting to watch. Some seasoned political operatives, especially Republican operatives like George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove, was flat-out astonished that a presidential underling would be so bold as to directly challenge Trump’s authority as commander-in-chief while directly contradicting Trump’s principle foreign policy and military leaders. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
It could be that Trump directed Bannon to do this interview, in which he often referred to himself as the principal decision-maker on everything from foreign and military policy to domestic political policy prioritization, but that doesn’t seem likely. It could also be that Bannon believes Trump’s support would crumble if the president were to fire his errant functionary. That doesn’t make sense either, given that Trump’s political base of support has remained fairly steady since he was elected, but perhaps that’s what many people within the White House who have Trump’s ear believe. Time will tell.
But without question Bannon’s claim that the U.S. has “no military options” to deal with North Korea, and that it’s just a “side show” being perpetuated by China — which, he says, is the real threat to future American hegemony — is dangerously contradictory and puts the president’s military and foreign policy objectives for North Korea (and China, and South Korea, and Japan) at risk.
Whatever the reason for Bannon calling up a reporter from a magazine that has not been kind at all to the administration, it wasn’t smart to deliver to allies and enemies alike a message that directly conflicts with his boss, the president.