There’s speculation that US President Donald Trump decided not to appoint Victor Cha the next US ambassador to South Korea because Cha didn’t agree with the strategy of delivering a limited pre-emptive strike on North Korean missile test sites, the so-called ‘bloody nose’ strategy.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post cited anonymous sources as saying Victor Cha was dropped from consideration ‘after he privately expressed disagreement in late December with the Trump administration’s North Korea policy’.
In a follow-up story by Reuters, an anonymous official acknowledged there had been ‘policy disagreements’.
On Wednesday, Cha, a professor at Georgetown University, seemed to back up this reporting with a column in The Washington Post.
‘[A] strike (even a large one) would only delay North Korea’s missile-building and nuclear programs, which are buried in deep, unknown places impenetrable to bunker-busting bombs,’ Cha wrote.
Cha’s column outlined the problem of escalation control after ‘limited strikes’ and instead advocated a strategy of damage limitation and alliance building to deal with North Korea.
There has been growing concern the Trump administration is seriously considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. In particular, national security advisor HR McMaster is thought to be open to the idea of a limited strike.
In his state of the union address on Tuesday, Trump decried North Korea’s ‘reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles’ which ‘could very soon threaten our homeland.’
‘We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,’ he added.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In has kept his promise to his voters by seeking a modest rapprochement with Pyonogyang, but he’s surely concerned by both the Trump administration’s rhetoric and Kim Jong-Un’s actions.
On Monday, Pyongyang cancelled a planned cultural event that was to be held ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics that’s starting on February 9, with North Korea as one of the participants.
North Korea also advanced its annual Army Foundation Day, held for three decades on April 25 back to older date of February 8.
On Wednesday there were also fresh grounds for scepticism about America’s missile defences, when an Aegis SM-3 Block IIA missile failed to intercept an aircraft-launched target that was simulating an incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). A similar test last July also failed.
Not everyone is convinced the Trump administration is seriously considering limited strikes on North Korean targets. Writing in The Washington Post on Wednesday, columnist Josh Rogin argued that the ‘policy of applying maximum pressure with the aim of creating the conditions for negotiations’ had not changed.
If that’s so, we must still wonder why Cha was dropped.