Rice: U.S. decision to start pre-emptive war on Korean peninsula "would be lunacy"

Rice: U.S. decision to start pre-emptive war on Korean peninsula "would be lunacy"

Former national security advisor Susan Rice has published an Op-Ed in the New York Times criticizing President Trump's "fire and fury" rhetoric toward a "growing North Korea threat." In her piece, entitled "It's Not Too Late on North Korea," Rice states that the U.S. can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, but it can cool its own rhetoric as a means of prevention. "Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious," Rice wrote.

The 'reckless rhetoric' puts the U.S. in a bind, says Rice:

President Trump's "fire and fury" remarks limn a 'red line': if they are part of an empty threat, they undermine U.S. credibility. Worse still, if Kim Jong-un takes the threat at face value, the chain of events set off by his actions would be catastrophic.
"Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy."
It is, essentially, a highest-stakes game of "literally, but not seriously; or, seriously, but not literally".

What could the U.S. do instead of escalating its rhetoric?

Rice proposes a four-tiered method for dealing with (and adjusting to) the North Korean threat:
1) A clear red line: "...While we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday."
2) Stop the 'reckless rhetoric': "...To avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears."
3) Bolster the defenses of the U.S. and its allies: "We must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever."
4) Raise the costs on North Korea's lack of cooperation: "Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign."
5) Refine our dialogue with China: "We must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal."

Sen. Graham strikes a different tone, cites conversations with President Trump: