14 Quotes From Serious People on War of Words With North Korea

After President Donald Trump unleashed a verbal broadside against North Korea early this week, promising "fire and fury" in response to threats from the hermit kingdom, North Korea promptly responded with more threats. As the rhetoric continued to heat up over the following days (including this morning), top current and former government officials, diplomats and nuclear experts weighed in. 

Here are 14 quotes from serious people on the war of words:

So I think the President – what the President is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language. I think the President just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S. unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.
— Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, Aug. 9
I do worry that this game of rhetoric chicken is going to become self-fulfilling... It’s somewhat reminiscent to me of the history of World War I and how the world kind of blundered into that. I hope people learn from history here.
— James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, Aug. 11
We are stirring the pot. It is not an illogical strategy. I think I see the plan. One only hopes that we have thought through what my army and Marine friends would call the branches and sequels of that plan. After all, we all know the enemy gets a ‘vote.’
— Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.), former Director of CIA and NSA, Aug. 9
We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump... Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.
— Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor, Aug. 10
You’ve got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments — and it doesn’t help the situation in terms of trying to resolve something that has to be resolved peacefully... because the consequences of nuclear war would be devastating.
— Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, Aug. 9
It is important for us to leave the opportunities for diplomacy to work and not heighten tensions, but rather try to work our way through them. So it’s my hope that level heads will prevail here... I hope people will work the diplomatic route and do what’s wise.
— John Kerry, former Secretary of State, Aug. 10
The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack. Kim Jong Un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over, who agree the DPRK poses a threat to global security and stability. The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.
— Gen. James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, Aug. 9
This is a dangerous departure from historical precedent. The policy and practice of the United States on threats to use nuclear weapons has been consistent for many decades, and for presidents of both political parties... During the early Cold War, the more shrill the language used by Premier Khrushchev against the United States, the more tempered was the response of President Eisenhower. Just as in those tense times, today’s crisis also calls for measured language.
— William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense, Aug. 9
Donald Trump has returned the North Korean rhetoric with similar rhetoric and that’s not wise. I think it’s reckless... We’ve not seen tensions with North Korea of the kind we’re seeing right now in many, many years.
— Daryl Kimball, Director of the Arms Control Association, Aug. 9
[I would] counsel more circumspection in our rhetoric... After all, we are the great power, not North Korea, and there is no value gained from descending to Kim Jong-un’s level on this. I would prefer a more mature, measured tone in which the president makes it clear that we will respond proportionally under international law should North Korea actually execute any of their many threats — and that, in the case of nuclear weapons use, that response will be overwhelming.
— Adm. Sandy Winnefeld (ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Aug. 10
I don’t know what went on in the White House to get him to say that [‘fire and fury’ comments] but I thought they were entirely appropriate remarks. For too long we’ve heard American political leaders say ‘all options are on the table’ — they say it in a deep voice very slowly — nobody cares about that any more.
— John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Aug. 10
There’s a greater risk of miscommunication than before and someone could stumble across a red line unknowingly... With the escalating threats, it’s starting to sound like two guys in a bar saying, ‘hold my beer.’
— Bruce Klingner, former CIA Deputy Division Chief for Korea, Aug. 11
I take exception to the President’s comments because you gotta be able to do what you say you’re gonna do... In other words, the old walk softly but carry a big stick, Teddy Roosevelt’s saying, which I think is something that should’ve applied because all it’s going to do is bring us closer to a serious confrontation. I think this is very, very, very serious… The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act and I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act...It’s the classic Trump in that he overstates things.
— Sen. John McCain, Armed Services Committee Chairman, Aug. 9
Surely the President does not really mean that we will attack North Korea in response to rhetorical threats? Surely.
— Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Aug. 8

Sources: Tillerson, ClapperHayden, Rice, Panetta, Kerry, MattisPerry, Kimball, Winnefeld, Bolton, KlingnerMcCain, McFaul

*This report has been updated

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