Not a few people have suggested that Pr*sident Donald J. Trump, the guy who has embarrassed even a few Republicans with his 6th grader tweets and colossal ignorance, is wagging the dog over North Korea to distract attention from his political incompetence and the Mueller investigation. Perhaps Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and his foreign minister are doing the same to divert attention from their problems.
Do they mean what they say? Or are they just spouting off for the home audience with no intent to go to war? Maybe it’s all just a bluff. But if this competitive waving of twangers is just bluffing with the idea of ratcheting up the bellicose rhetoric until the other side blinks and backs off, it’s a damned risky move.
So risky, in fact, that retired Admiral James Stavridis told Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick Sunday that he puts the chances of a conventional war in Korea at 50-50 and a nuclear one at 10 percent:
“We are closer to a nuclear exchange than we have been at any time in the world’s history with the single exception of the Cuban missile crisis,’’ Stavridis said.
Of course, those odds are just one fellow’s educated guess, and he could be far from the mark.
But Stavridis is not some Pentagon also-ran engaged in breathless fearmongering. While he has retired from his military career, he’s now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, chairman of the board of the U.S. Naval Institute and a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. When someone of that stature gives odds of war in that range, it’s wise to pay attention.
Joe Cirincione is someone who has been paying attention. And he thinks the admiral’s nuclear estimate is too optimistic. He’s president of the Ploughshares Fund, a group focused for 35 years on getting us to a world without nuclear weapons. Cirincione worked on the staffs of the House Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations for nearly a decade and has written hundreds of articles on nuclear weapons issues. He is not given to hyperbole.