Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address was long on effusive praise of heroes placed in the audience for the express purpose of being praised and short on policy specifics, particularly as regards international relations. Those who hoped the president might address global nuclear tensions were provided four vague sentences, none of which explained much or hinted at the possibility of new arms control negotiations: “As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal. Hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else. Perhaps someday in the future, there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, sadly.”
In fact, the president’s speech dealt with the United States’ main geopolitical rivals, Russia and China, in a single sentence. Sadly.
The president did spend several hundred words of his address discussing North Korea. But his focus was on the “depraved character” of the North Korean regime and the United States’ “campaign of maximum pressure” against Pyongyang. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart suggested that Trump tack was an attempt to rally public support for a military strike against North Korea.
Indirect evidence for Beinart’s assertion came from Victor Cha, a Georgetown University Korea expert who had been expected to be the next US ambassador to South Korea but who has been dropped from consideration. The Washington Post reported that the White House decided not to nominate Cha because he “raised his concerns with National Security Council officials over their consideration of a limited strike on the North aimed at sending a message without sparking a wider war—a risky concept known as a “bloody nose” strategy.” On Tuesday, Cha explained those concerns in a Post op-ed, “Victor Cha: Giving North Korea a ‘bloody nose’ carries a huge risk to Americans” that stands as a must-read counterpoint to Trump’s State of the Union rhetoric, and as an informed rebuke to the coterie within the Trump administration that is pushing for a US attack on North Korea.