Smith: Tweet is no substitute for comprehensive strategy

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives a televised address.

(Mike Smith is a regular columnist for VTDigger. He hosts the radio program “Open Mike with Mike Smith” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM and is a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Gov. Jim Douglas.)

Last week North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile.

President Donald Trump tweeted, “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”

Let me answer that: “No, Mr. President, he doesn’t.” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to develop the capability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons. My question to the president is this: “What’s our strategy to stop someone that is so focused on our destruction?”

In April the president tweeted, “I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.”

But just last week the president tweeted, “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try.”

So what happens now?

For months Trump has signaled that a North Korea capable of attacking the United States is unacceptable and this country would take unilateral action, if required.

Thursday at a news conference Trump said, “I have some pretty severe things that we are thinking about. That doesn’t mean we are going to do it. I don’t draw red lines.”

Do these “severe things” mean military action? Are more economic sanctions being planned for both North Korea and China? Is there a diplomatic effort underway to further isolate North Korea?

Keeping an enemy guessing about our country’s intentions is one thing, but keeping the American public guessing is quite another, especially when we are talking about the possibility of war. With North Korea there are so many questions and yet so few answers — in some cases, confusing and conflicting statements — coming from our president.

Tweets and sound bites are no substitute for a comprehensive foreign policy strategy. Here are the differences.

Time and effort are put into a strategy — it’s reflective and thoughtful. A tweet is often impulsive and emotional.

A strategy means views from a variety of sources are taken into consideration. Tweets are from an individual.

A good strategy analyzes the likelihood of success and the effort required to achieve it. A tweet often pretends quick fixes are sufficient and can underestimate the effort or sacrifice required.

Let’s be honest: Seldom can a complex foreign policy problem be solved in 140 characters. With North Korea our president’s words are important, and the more words said in an articulate and consistent manner, the better it will be to resolve this crisis.

In fairness to Trump, the actions of North Korea have been brewing for years, and other U.S. presidents have ignored this growing threat or been snookered by the leaders of the North Korean government. Trump has confronted a growing national security problem that needs to be confronted. But the question is this: Does he have the skills to resolve this crisis?

A foreign policy crisis differs significantly from a real estate deal — the type of negotiation where Trump learned his skills. You can walk away from a real estate deal. You can’t walk away from a world crisis. If a transaction goes badly in real estate, you may lose money. If the wrong decision is made in North Korea, then people, including Americans, can lose their lives.

Words matter, a comprehensive policy matters, and none of this can be substituted by a tweet. So, Mr. President, please explain to the American public your strategy and what actions are necessary on North Korea. And do keep in mind, a mistake can be deadly.


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  • Edward Letourneau

    Does the writer really think you can tell the American people what is going on or being planned without telling North Korea? This is not a board game. — I’m sure N. Korea understands that if they do more than test, e.g., take an offensive action, they will be obliterated. So what is the whining about?