This was a truly awful answer by National Security Adviser McMaster on Sunday's "Meet the Press." Chuck Todd, transitioning into a somewhat related question without asking a follow-up, apparently didn't think so, perhaps because Lieutenant HR General McMaster, General Mattis, and General Kelly look good to a media which has unoficially anointed them (pattern anyone?) the three Wise Men. The Chuckster asked
There's been a lot of confusion. Has the president drawn a red line? Is it a threat from Kim Jong Un? Is it a missile test to Guam? Can you explain how his words should be interpreted here? Particularly cause he seemed to say, the last one, even a threat was going to get a response. What's the red line here?
In the first three of his seven-sentence response, McMaster stated
The president doesn't draw red lines. What he does is he asks us to make sure that we have viable options for him. Options that combine diplomatic, economic, and military capabilities. And so that's what we've done.
The President first drew a red line when on August 8 he blustered "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before." A spokesperson for Pyongyang then announced "The KPA Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base."
Details were to follow, hastened perhaps by Trump's warning two days later that "sound and fury" might not have been "tough enough." We soon learned "The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA [Korean People's Army]) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,"
McMaster won't acknowledge even that Donald Trump has issued a red line, let alone that he has backed down- twice- when challenged.. It's a red line even if you do not call it a "red line." The following four sentences of McMaster's response, though more honest, should be discouraging:
What's critical here, I think, is the president, through his engagement with world leaders, with our allies, our great allies Japan and South Korea, but also now with China, have recognized really three fundamental things. The first is this isn't just a US problem, this is a world problem. The second is that China has real influence to be able to cope with this. And the third and this is what's most important, that the goal, the common goal that we have to pursue is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
While McMaster was shilling for Trump, Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on CNN's "State of the Union" offered a more sober take. Asked (at 3:00 of the video below) about the view of Senator Lindsey Graham and Homeland Security head Tom Bossert that a nuclearized North Korea is unacceptable, Clapper stated
Well, yes, ideally I love a denuclearized North Korea but as I learned when I went there and had some pretty intense dialogue with them that is a nonstarter with them. That is their ticket to survival and I don't see any way they're going to give it up.
So, I think our process, our thought process here ought to be on accepting it and trying to cap it or control it. But I think a denuclearized North Korea I would love to see it, but I don't think it's in the cards.
FA full loaf is not in the cards for the USA, which the federal government in previous administrations should have realized. Here, the perfect is likely the enemy of the good. The USA can start a catastrophic war or, more likely, bluff and bluster- as Trump has done- and continue to have our bluff called. While it's probable that McMaster's idealistic notion of a neutered North Korea will not come about, it's certain that he knows a red line is a red line even if it's not called a red line.