The Pentagon is afraid to give President Donald Trump “too many” options for a preemptive military strike on North Korea because officials believe he might act on one of them.
“Given the staggering costs of a U.S.-led conflict on the Korean Peninsula…the Trump administration’s use of preventive force would be a suicidal reaction to uncertainty.”
—Mira Rapp-Hooper, Yale
That’s according to an article published Friday by the New York Times, which quotes anonymous administration officials as saying the Pentagon “is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically.”
“Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act,” the Times reports.
The Pentagon—not exactly known for hesitating when it comes to drawing up plans for aggressive military action—denied that it has “slow-walked options” to Trump.
Reported tensions between the White House and the Pentagon went public earlier this week after it was revealed that Trump tabled the nomination of Victor Cha—who was chosen to be the U.S. ambassador to South Korea—because he privately disagreed with the president’s aggressive posture toward North Korea.
Cha elaborated on his disagreements with Trump—who has threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury“—in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Tuesday, arguing that “the answer is not, as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike” on North Korea.
According to the Times, White House officials—and in particular the National Security Council, led by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster—are nonetheless still “considering the feasibility of a preventive strike that could include disabling a missile on the launchpad or destroying North Korea’s entire nuclear infrastructure.”
Echoing concerns expressed by Cha and other Korea experts, analysts have repeatedly warned that such a “targeted” attack, sometimes called a “bloody nose” strike, would “trigger an all-out war” on the Korean Peninsula.
“Given the staggering costs of a U.S.-led conflict on the Korean Peninsula…the Trump administration’s use of preventive force would be a suicidal reaction to uncertainty,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior fellow in the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, wrote for The Atlantic on Wednesday. “This would not be a case of choosing the least bad option…but of opting knowingly for cataclysm.”