Something is wrong when Washington's rhetoric matches North Korea's
McMaster and others should frame the North Korea situation as a threat to be ameliorated and stop speaking in terms that should be reserved for a full-blown crisis. A threat can be dealt with over time. A crisis, however, requires urgent action -- and at present there are no good options.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to his credit, has been trying to cool things down. He even offered to begin talks with the North Koreans with no preconditions, though this overture was quickly nixed by the White House. Tillerson's instinct is the right one: Slow down, stop shouting, start talking.
The obvious solution is some sort of negotiated deal that freezes the North Korean nuclear and missile programs at certain levels. That would mean accepting what the administration now describes as unacceptable, but it would avoid the unthinkable: a bloodbath that could leave not just Pyongyang but much of Seoul, and perhaps Tokyo, in smoking ruins.
Someone should remind Trump that he campaigned on a pledge to end the nation's role as the world's policeman. Since taking office, he has mostly allowed himself to be guided by the generals who surround him -- McMaster, chief of staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. On balance, this has been a good thing. But I'm increasingly worried by the way the generals talk about North Korea.
And someone should remind Congress of its constitutional responsibility. Congress, not the president, is given the power to declare war -- and, by extension, to prevent it.
Everybody needs to lower the temperature and begin talking in reasonable terms about achievable goals. Something is wrong when the rhetoric from Pyongyang is no more belligerent than what we hear around Washington.
Eugene Robinson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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