Former CIA Directors Split on Trump's North Korea Threat

Two former heads of the CIA weighed in on President Donald Trump's aggressive words for North Korea, and where one saw increasing chaos, the other saw the outlines of a risky but "coherent" strategy.

"We are the ones stirring the pot right now in northeast Asia," former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.) wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. "The North Korean program has been on its predictable arc. What's new is out response: rhetorically tougher language, even beyond what the president said Tuesday; naval deployments in the waters off the peninsula; nuclear-capable B-1s flying from Guam in full view of North Korean radars and seriously threatening, punishing secondary sanctions against Chinese banks and industries."

Later, Hayden continues, "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.'"

But where Hayden sees a plan, his immediate successor at the CIA, Leon Panetta, sees little more than potentially catastrophic posturing.

“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," Panetta told Politico today. "The question is: Does (Trump) get so frustrated with the North Korean leader — who’s yelling every other day — that he feels that somehow the North Korean leader is attacking his manhood?... And (Trump) this is a guy who, if he feels that, does he decide, 'OK, enough is enough?' So we’re living on that brink right now.

"...For 25 years, trying to live with danger zones that are out there in the world, you always felt there were rational minds that understood that at some point you’ll find a way to deal with it," Panetta said. "That chemistry has changed. So it makes it very unpredictable."

During a meeting with administration officials at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump told reporters Tuesday, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."

"He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement," Trump said in what was reportedly an improvised verbal salvo. (By saying "he," Trump is presumably referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.) "And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before," Trump said.

A few hours later, the North Korean military reportedly threatened to strike Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific approximately 2,000 miles from North Korea and home to American military outposts.

[CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that President Trump made the "fire and fury" comments on Tuesday, not Wednesday as originally reported.]