Senator Lindsey Graham said on Thursday that President Trump isn’t just lobbing empty threats against North Korea. The South Carolina hawk said that he had spoken with Trump about the possibility of a preemptive strike against the country, and described the president as “deadly serious. Very curious.”
“I think he’s made a decision long ago, quite frankly, to try to negotiate the threat with North Korea … But if negotiations fail, he is willing to abandon strategic patience and use preemption,” Graham said. “I think he’s there mentally. He has told me this.”
Graham also said that such a strike would not require congressional approval.
Tensions between birds of a feather Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump showed no signs of cooling on Friday, as Trump elevated his inflammatory rhetoric once again.
Flanked awkwardly by cabinet and family members at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey (yes, this is real life), Trump said of Kim Jong-un, “If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat — which by the way he’s been uttering for years, and his family has been uttering for years — or if he does anything with respect to Guam, or American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.”
He also said that “tens of millions in this country” are “so happy with what I’m saying.”
In a later appearance, Trump said, with his trademark insight, “Hopefully it will all work out.”
Friday morning, Trump had tweeted that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.”
But, as the New York Times reports, Trump’s bellicosity has not translated into any outward pivot in military posture:
As a practical matter, Mr. Trump’s comments do not necessarily indicate a specific change in military readiness or any imminent action. The motto of American forces based alongside allied troops in South Korea has long been “Ready to Fight Tonight,” mainly a slogan emphasizing preparedness rather than a statement of hostility. There has been little if any sign of mobilization that might suggest preparations for a strike.
Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has an array of conventional artillery that analysts said could lay waste to Seoul and other parts of South Korea if war were to start, yet no move has been made to begin evacuating the many thousands of American civilians living there.
Also on Friday, the Associated Press reported that, despite the war of words, back-channel talks are ongoing between high-level diplomats representing North Korea and the U.S. The talks helped secure the release of imprisoned college student Otto Warmbier (who died on American soil soon after).
Trump was hearing none of that on Friday, though. “We don’t want to talk about progress, we don’t want to talk about back-channels,” Trump told reporters.
That much is clear.