Red lines & lost credibility
A major goal of this Asia trip, said National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, is to rally allies to achieve the "complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
Yet Kim Jong Un has said he will never give up his nuclear weapons. He believes the survival of his dynastic regime depends upon them.
Hence we are headed for confrontation. Either the U.S. or North Korea backs down, as Nikita Khrushchev did in the Cuban missile crisis, or there will be war.
In this new century, U.S. leaders continue to draw red lines that threaten acts of war that the nation is unprepared to back up.
Recall President Obama's, "Assad must go!" and the warning that any use of chemical weapons would cross his personal "red line."
Result: After chemical weapons were used, Americans rose in united opposition to a retaliatory strike. Congress refused to authorize any attack. Obama and John Kerry were left with egg all over their faces. And the credibility of the country was commensurately damaged.
There was a time when U.S. words were taken seriously, and we heeded Theodore Roosevelt's dictum: "Speak softly, and carry a big stick."
After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1991, George H.W. Bush said simply: "This will not stand." The world understood that if Saddam did not withdraw from Kuwait, his army would be thrown out. As it was.
But in the post-Cold War era, the rhetoric of U.S. statesmen has grown ever more blustery, even as U.S. relative power has declined. Our goal is "ending tyranny in our world," bellowed George W. Bush in his second inaugural.
Consider Rex Tillerson's recent trip. In Saudi Arabia, he declared, "Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against ... ISIS is coming to a close ... need to go home. Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home."