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Sunday Political Brunch When Presidents Talk Tough—August 13, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

 

Mark Curtis

President Trump stirred a lot of emotion this week, when he warned North Korea - which continues to make missile threats - that “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea even threatened to launch a nuclear missile at Guam, a nearby U.S. territory. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Fire and Fury” -- So how did Trump's warning play? Trump fans loved it. They believe it’s time for a U.S. President to talk tough and to be willing to back it up with military might. Critics thought the warning was reckless “cowboy bluster,” which might provoke North Korea to make military strikes. I was surprised at how shocked many people were, as if no U.S. President has ever talked tough like this before. History tells us otherwise.

“Words Are Diplomacy” – Many of the President’s critics would like to see diplomacy given more of a chance. But the North Korea problem is not new. It has been a thorn in the sides of Trump and his three predecessors in the White House. Now, its Kim Jong Un; but before him, it was his equally provocative father, Kim Jong Il. Neither seemed inclined to seriously consider diplomatic efforts, but many believe a stern intervention by North Korea’s ally, China, might be the ticket to a diplomatic solution. In the meantime, the two Kims have launched numerous missiles, which - although mostly duds - sooner or later might hit pay dirt.

“Tear Down This Wall!” – Many people remember it fondly, but it was not so popular at the time. When President Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in June, 1987, to plead for an end to Communist East Germany, he defiantly said to the then-Soviet dictator, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” My friend Peter Robinson - a Reagan speechwriter now at Stanford University - wrote the address. He and senior White House aides debated whether the controversial line should be in or out. It stayed at Robinson’s insistence, and the rest is history. Critics thought Reagan was trying to escalate the arms race with Russia and it could lead to war. It didn’t. In fact, the Berlin Wall came down just over two years later.

“Don’t Tread on Us!” – President Clinton surprised a lot of people just five months into his term, when he ordered a bombing raid on Iraq. U.S. intelligence had uncovered an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush. This is what President Clinton said: “From the first days of our Revolution, America's security has depended on the clarity of this message: Don't tread on us. A firm and commensurate response was essential to protect our sovereignty, to send a message to those who engage in state-sponsored terrorism…” His critics thought Clinton was beating his own chest, but Saddam Hussein backed off, if only for a few years.

“To Kill bin Laden” – During a debate with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) said, “If we have Osama Bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take him out, then I think that we must act, and we will take him out. We will kill Bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida. That has to be our biggest national security priority.” He said a similar thing in primary debates with Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Obama was widely booed by official Washington for telegraphing an incursion into the sovereign state of Pakistan. Senators Clinton and McCain seized on this as wrong. In May, 2012, Obama did exactly what he had promised. He ordered a raid into Pakistan, without telling its leaders, and called the strike that killed Bin Laden.

“Bring ‘em On!” – In July, 2003, contemplating war with Iraq, President George W. Bush said, "There are some who feel like -- that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is 'Bring 'em on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation'." Bush was harshly criticized for his provocative language. Years later, he acknowledged that even First Lady Laura Bush had not been happy. He said, “I can remember getting back to the White House; and Laura said, 'What did you do that for?' I said, 'Well, it was just an expression that came out. I didn't rehearse it.' I don't know if you'd call it a regret, but it certainly is a lesson that a President must be mindful of, that the words that you sometimes say - I speak plainly sometimes - but you've got to be mindful of the consequences of the words.”

“Why All of This Matters” – It’s interesting that George W. Bush, perhaps the most-criticized President of recent time (before Donald J. Trump), has the greatest insight into this dilemma. As President, your words are carefully weighed. Speak too weakly, and you are called a wimp. Talk too tough, and you are called a bully. The great equalizer is when Presidents back up their rhetoric with real action. All the Presidents I cited here backed up their tough words with concrete action. Will President Trump join their ranks? Stay tuned!

Was President Trump’s talk too tough? Or will it invite trouble? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com

 

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