Via Newsbusters, I’m old enough to remember when threatening to destroy a country that’s openly attempting to target the U.S. with nuclear weapons was called “deterrence,” not a war crime in the making. Watch Stephanopoulos reach for a way to frame Trump’s threat in the least favorable light, wondering if his promise to “defend ourselves and our allies” might lead him to order a “preventative” nuclear first strike. Trump said nothing about prevention at the UN today. Realistically, given the environmental risk to South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia from the fallout, the U.S. would launch an all-out nuclear attack on the North only as a last resort, if the North launched first at an American ally or at America itself. Terry Moran is puffing and wheezing here because bellicosity sounds different to him coming out of the Republican strongman Trump’s mouth than it did coming out of the mouths of internationalist Democrats.
But it has, in fact, come out of their mouths in the past. Right-wingers on Twitter are pointing to something Obama said last year about how the United States could “obviously destroy North Korea with our arsenals,” but O added that we wouldn’t want to do that for “humanitarian” reasons and because of the environmental consequences for the region. His comment was made less as a threat than as an acknowledgment of capabilities. How about this statement from Bill Clinton, though, via Stephen “redsteeze” Miller?
And in a press conference in November 1993, Clinton warned Pyongyang against waging war.
“I know of no one who seriously believes that the United States and [South Korea] would be defeated in a war of aggression by North Korea if they were to attack,” Clinton said. “And I made it as clear as I could that if they were to do that, they would pay a price so great that the nation would probably not survive as it is known today.”
Pretty threatening! Right, Clinton eventually pursued diplomacy with North Korea (which failed miserably to stop their nuclear program, needless to say), but Trump has also opened the door to diplomacy, even offering to meet personally with Kim Jong Un if the circumstances were right. This is, as Miller notes in his tweet, another case of the media finding something objectionable coming from Trump that it wouldn’t object to coming from anyone else. That’s a key theme of his presidency to date, in fact, and not just among the media.
Another dubious bit from Moran’s lecture:
When [Trump] said, “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, but we do expect all nations to uphold two core sovereign duties, to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation. And there are lots of dictators around the world, including Vladimir Putin who say the same thing and will hear those words, however President Trump meant them, as a license to do whatever they want to their own people.
That’s a traditional internationalist critique of U.S. foreign policy. We have “soft power” leverage over illiberal regimes that we should use to get them to respect human rights, not give them a free pass by telling them upfront that we don’t expect them to conform to our culture. But it’s stupid as applied to Putin, especially in light of Trump’s two caveats. Putin doesn’t respect the interests of his own people. He runs one of the most infamous kleptocracies on Earth. And he doesn’t respect the rights of other sovereign nations. Trump himself named Ukraine today as a country whose sovereignty is under threat, and he did so knowing that Russia is conducting war games right now on a gigantic scale. The idea that Putin, of all people, would feel constrained from behaving however he wants domestically because of anything the U.S. might say is ridiculous in itself.
If anything, it’s nationalists who should feel grumbly about that passage, not Moran. A nationalist cares about the interests of Americans, period; what Putin does to Russians or Assad does to Syrians is of little concern so long as they’re cooperating with the U.S. government in making Americans’ lives better. Trump didn’t go that route in his speech. Moran’s farting on him anyway.