White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says a military conflict with North Korea won't happen, arguing bluntly, "they got us."
"There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it," Bannon said, according to the progressive magazine The American Prospect. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us."
The statement appears to be sharply at odds with President Donald Trump's threat last week to reign down "fire and fury" on North Korea if the hermit kingdom's officials continue to threaten the U.S. (The threat may have worked, for now.)
According to the Prospect, Bannon made the comments in an unsolicited phone call to the magazine's co-editor Robert Kuttner. Today Axios reported that Bannon didn't realize he was on the record and did not intend to give an interview.
The result is an unfiltered peak at the chief strategist's worldview and his priorities -- China first among them.
"We're at economic war with China," he added. "It's in all their literature. They're not shy about saying what they're doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it's gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they're just tapping us along. It's just a sideshow."
The Prospect reported Bannon might consider a deal in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program and submits to international inspects in return for American troops leaving South Korea -- but he acknowledged such a deal was extremely unlikely.
More importantly, in Bannon's mind, is North Korea's much larger neighbor to the West.
"To me the economic war with China is everything," Bannon reportedly said. "And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover."
Per the Prospect:
Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. "We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us."