California Forum

I am gravely concerned that the president’s actions could lead us into war

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran on Oct. 11, 2017. Rouhani said if the U.S. backs out of the nuclear deal, as Trump said he will do on Friday, “it won’t be our failure at all, but a failure for the other side.” (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran on Oct. 11, 2017. Rouhani said if the U.S. backs out of the nuclear deal, as Trump said he will do on Friday, “it won’t be our failure at all, but a failure for the other side.” (Iranian Presidency Office via AP) AP

The United States is dangerously close to war with North Korea and we are quickly running out of options to de-escalate tensions. As the vice ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I am gravely concerned that President Donald Trump’s actions have undermined our goals to peacefully resolve the situation. Without a renewed focus on diplomacy, one miscalculation could lead to war.

Congressional leadership, military experts and many on the president’s own national security team agree that there is no good military outcome to a war on the Korean peninsula. Every scenario suggests tens of thousands would die; the worst case involves war with China and possible use of nuclear weapons.

Our strategy has been working with one key exception: The president consistently undermines our efforts.

Facing this, the only feasible option is diplomatic engagement. Our strategy must be to steadily increase pressure and isolate Kim Jong-un. This July, Congress passed sweeping financial sanctions on North Korea. The U.N. Security Council has also sanctioned North Korea and China has begun to crack down on North Korean companies, reducing their access to money and energy.

Our strategy has been working with one key exception: The president consistently undermines our efforts. Every time he calls Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man,” he makes it harder for North Korea to come to the negotiating table, no matter the pressure they feel.

When Trump publicly undercuts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it closes the diplomatic door. When Trump insinuates there is only one option in North Korea – military – he closes the diplomatic door. By decertifying the Iran Nuclear Deal without evidence Iran has cheated in its obligations, he undermines trust in America’s word and closes the diplomatic door.

Time and again, Trump has weakened the tireless work of our diplomats. Splintering our relationship with South Korea and Japan is what North Korea wants. This summer, I traveled to South Korea with members of Congress and spoke directly with President Moon and his foreign minister. In repeated discussions, I heard the same message: America must take the lead reducing tensions on the peninsula.

We all know the president enjoys his bombastic phrases, but reckless words damage our ability to peacefully resolve tensions with a nuclear-armed state. Communicating clearly is essential. The president’s Twitter diplomacy is not funny – it’s dangerous. The North Koreans have been so confused by the president’s threats they have even reached out to Republican political operatives to try to figure out his real intentions. How does that help?

Defending ourselves and our allies doesn’t mean acting tough, it means being smart. Make no mistake, America will respond if North Korea attacks, but diplomacy is a vital national security tool that saves lives and stops conflict before it begins.

Effective diplomacy takes time, and leverages all our country’s strengths. American power has always been amplified by the strength and resolve of our allies, especially South Korea and Japan. Standing with our allies, engaging China, and using targeted sanctions are great leverage points – but this strategy hinges on a president committed to pursuing peace. Careful, steady diplomacy, not bombs and bluster, will resolve this dispute in America’s favor.

One concrete step the Trump administration must take is appointing an ambassador to South Korea. Shockingly, America has no diplomatic lead for one of our closest allies. How can we reassure South Korea we support a peaceful solution when we don’t invest in diplomacy? Its absence means we have only one solution – military. Mr. President, give diplomacy a chance. The alternative is unacceptable.

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera represents California’s 7th congressional district, at ami.bera@mail.house.gov.

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