The Washington political buzz is still all about President Trump’s surprise attack on a Syrian airfield to discourage Bashar al-Assad from using any more chemical weapons on his own people. So far, so good on that topic.
But what slipped in under the weekend radar was the debut network appearance of Trump’s national security adviser, former general H.R. McMaster, on Fox News Sunday. McMaster is a serious fellow. And given that he’s the architect of Trump’s decisive, measured Tomahawk message, Americans and world leaders would be well-advised to listen to his unusually clear words. Those still suggesting Trump is a Putin patsy now sound silly.
McMaster answered the anticipated questions about Syria, suggesting now is a good time for Russia to reconsider its rationale for sponsorship of Assad’s “murderous regime.” We know that was a message of the day because the Trump aide said “murderous regime” about five times.
McMaster also posed a good question himself: “We should be asking Russia how could it be if you have advisers at that airfield that you didn’t know the Syrian Air Force was preparing to execute a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?”
Then, almost as an afterthought, final question, McMaster was asked why the president was sending the entire Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group to waters off the Korean Peninsula. Taylor Millard wrote of the announcement here.
“Well,” said McMaster, “It’s prudent to do it, isn’t it?”
As you can see in the photo, an aircraft carrier strike group is a major assembly of force — you might call it overwhelming — to move into any neighborhood, consisting of destroyers, missile cruisers and supply ships. Not shown are the two missile-equipped, nuclear submarines that hang around such groups.
The Korean Peninsula is unusually touchy right now. Fresh from assassinating his brother in Malaysia, North Korea’s dictator Kim Jung-un is as loopy as ever.
The Republic of South Korea, where we’ve based some 30,000 troops, is going through a presidential impeachment. To underscore U.S. commitment, Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited last month to show support and warn that any North Korean attack would be met with an “overwhelming” response. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also visited to state the era of “strategic patience” with North Korea’s behavior and rapidly-advancing nuclear weapons program was officially over.
In a few days Vice President Mike Pence will deliver the same message in Seoul. Last week Trump delivered a similar message to China’s visiting President Xi, who’s long acted reluctant to pressure its neighbor. Given North Korea’s announced goal of developing an ICBM to deliver nuclear weapons on the U.S., Trump has said publicly that China needs to help rein in Kim or the U.S. will do it alone.
This Kim family is notoriously unpredictable. After World War II, North Korea’s communist founder, Kim’s grandfather, misread official Washington statements to mean the peninsula was outside America’s sphere of interest. Enter the Korean War.
So, McMaster clearly added:
This is a rogue regime that is now nuclear-capable. President Xi and President Trump agree that is unacceptable. What must happen is the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So, the president has asked us to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and to our allies and partners in that region.
Hard to mis-read such plain words.