STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Trump advisers clash over 'bloody nose' strike on North Korea

The tabled nomination of a widely-respected diplomat is bringing renewed focus to divisions inside the Trump administ...

Posted: Feb 1, 2018 2:58 PM
Updated: Feb 1, 2018 2:58 PM

The tabled nomination of a widely-respected diplomat is bringing renewed focus to divisions inside the Trump administration over how tough the US should be in positioning against North Korea with nuclear tests expected to resume after the upcoming Olympics.

The nomination of the long-rumored candidate to be US ambassador to South Korea, Victor Cha, was pulled last weekend after he warned the White House that a so-called "bloody nose" strike against Pyongyang would risk pulling the US into a disastrous war that would endanger hundreds of thousands of lives.

That's largely in line with the caution that's being urged by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

But others in the administration, including President Donald Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster, have insisted that a military strike be considered as a serious option as a way to exact maximum pressure on Pyongyang.

And it's that tension that was on display when Cha's nomination was pulled.

"It seems that there are divisions within the administration," Bruce Klingner, a former CIA officer and a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told CNN's Brooke Baldwin Wednesday.

"As the SecDef has stated there are a wide range of military options available to the President but it is important to note that this is still a diplomatically led effort," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan told CNN. "As far as specifics go we will not discuss operational details or potential military options."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, "Our policy is maximum pressure with the goal of bringing North Korea to the negotiating table, as POTUS said in the State of the Union. We have been clear that it is our intention to resolve this issue peacefully through dialogue. We have also been clear that denuclearization is the only acceptable outcome, that the entire international community is united on this point, and that it will be achieved, one way or another."

The National Security Council did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Months after the administration began the proceedings leading up to a nomination, Cha was asked by NSC officials whether he felt prepared to manage diplomatic efforts that would surround such a strike, including the potential evacuation of American civilians from Seoul, a source familiar with the dynamic told CNN.

Cha expressed concerns about such a strike, which he laid out in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday.

Under that strategy, the aim is for the US to initiate a military strike significant enough to force North Korea to question its nuclear ambitions but limited in scale as to avoid retaliation.

After the exchange with Cha, the White House went mostly silent, even as the South Koreans were in the process of approving his nomination in the process known as agr-ment.

Ultimately, some White House officials feared that nominating someone opposed to such a strike could undermine that military option in the eyes of members of Congress and administration officials, according to the source familiar with the debate.

They feared Cha would become a pawn in the intra-administration debate over the "bloody nose" strike, both during his confirmation hearings and when installed at the embassy in Seoul, the source said.

A senior State Department official said, "Dr. Cha's policy views have never been a factor in this process."

McMaster has emerged as a leading administration voice in preparing for such action and has been backed up by the NSC's top Asia official, Matt Pottinger, according to the source.

Another source acknowledged an internal discrepancy on the "bloody nose strategy" between the hawkish NSC and several top administration officials -- including Mattis and Tillerson -- who have advocated a more cautious approach.

But the continued push to legitimize a limited preemptive strike option is raising questions, even outside the administration.

"The idea of a 'bloody nose' strike against North Korea makes little sense because it has the potential for escalating response and strategic miscalculation, while gaining little concrete advantage," said Jamil N. Jaffer, founder of GMU's National Security Institute and former Chief Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"A more sensible approach to further North Korean aggression would be a significant change to our military posture in the region," said Jaffer, who also served in the Bush White House and is currently a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

North Korea analyst Gordon Chang says the decision to pull Cha is "ominous."

"It means that people are seriously considering a strike on North Korea," Chang said. "This is an indication that we are headed to war. And there are so many - there are so many other options that the United States can pursue and we are not having meaningful discussions, including sanctions on North Korea's backers and more sanctions in general."

In any discussions about a "limited strike," Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford would present Trump with all options and risks, including the worst case scenario on casualties.

Their outline would include the risks involved with hitting the target, missing the target, Kim Jong Un's reaction, the prospect of not getting South Korean support for a strike, and the risk of financial and economic fallout across Asia and beyond.

They would engage the President in a discussion of the strategy of a strike and the end game: What does the US actually hope to achieve with a military strike on North Korea and what is the risk if they try a strike and fail.

Trump used his first State of the Union address on Tuesday to slam the "depraved character of the North Korean regime" in an effort to rally the nation around a common threat, but new indications that his top national security advisers disagree over the best path forward have raised concerns that the President is actively considering a limited first strike option to send a message to Pyongyang.

While often eager to confront North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both verbally and via Twitter, his threats of "fire and fury" have largely been tempered by assurances from top advisers -- like Mattis and Tillerson -- who insist the US remains committed to prioritizing a peaceful resolution to tensions with Pyongyang.

Most of Trump's top national security advisers have said that military options should be reserved pending an imminent threat to the US or allies, but McMaster has repeatedly suggested otherwise -- even hinting that war is a real possibility and one that could come soon.

The US would likely win a military conflict with North Korea should tensions devolve into war, but would face a very difficult fight that would likely yield significant casualties on both sides, according to Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller.

War with North Korea "will be a very, very kinetic, physical, violent fight over some really, really tough ground and everybody is going to have to be mentally prepared," he recently said.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has warned "North Korea is ever closer to being able to hold America at risk."

Pompeo said it could be just a " handful of months" before North Korea might be able to demonstrate the capability to put a warhead on a missile that could reach the US.

"Their testing capacity has improved and the frequency with which they have tests which are materially successful has also improved."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 514171

Reported Deaths: 10285
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34920557
DeSoto33270432
Hinds32652642
Jackson24876391
Rankin22516404
Lee16366245
Madison14932283
Jones14129247
Forrest13785260
Lauderdale12279324
Lowndes11314193
Lamar10663140
Pearl River9720244
Lafayette8855143
Hancock7839132
Washington7553169
Oktibbeha7216138
Monroe7036179
Pontotoc7003109
Warren6872178
Panola6768135
Neshoba6732210
Marshall6686142
Bolivar6451151
Union640898
Pike5933156
Alcorn5887107
Lincoln5533136
George510380
Prentiss505385
Tippah492783
Itawamba4857107
Scott478199
Adams4771125
Tate4765117
Leflore4736144
Copiah457095
Yazoo456692
Simpson4554117
Wayne443172
Covington434695
Sunflower4315106
Marion4279112
Coahoma4238109
Leake414090
Newton395782
Tishomingo384894
Grenada3777109
Stone365766
Jasper340866
Attala338790
Winston317892
Chickasaw316167
Clay312578
Clarke301295
Calhoun285949
Holmes271889
Smith269452
Yalobusha244247
Tallahatchie232053
Greene224749
Walthall221866
Lawrence219141
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster206248
Noxubee188743
Montgomery181857
Carroll174941
Jefferson Davis173843
Tunica163339
Benton153139
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134439
Humphreys132139
Franklin126029
Quitman107628
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845761

Reported Deaths: 16119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161862004
Mobile742411381
Madison53315732
Shelby38351369
Baldwin38104589
Tuscaloosa36052641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25590263
Calhoun22598518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20026518
Marshall18790316
Houston17741425
St. Clair16904358
Limestone16153219
Cullman16067303
Elmore15912294
Lauderdale14991306
Talladega14209299
DeKalb12985269
Walker12067380
Blount10729192
Autauga10526157
Jackson10170194
Coffee9425192
Colbert9341208
Dale9024192
Tallapoosa7273201
Russell708865
Chilton7042170
Escambia6956143
Covington6943195
Franklin6338108
Chambers5785142
Marion5413130
Dallas5295209
Pike5123109
Clarke484886
Lawrence4831129
Winston4780110
Geneva4643136
Bibb434594
Barbour369980
Butler3439100
Marengo342393
Monroe337466
Randolph334867
Pickens333988
Fayette330085
Henry320766
Hale318489
Cherokee318363
Crenshaw260777
Washington256952
Cleburne254560
Lamar251953
Clay251169
Macon245064
Conecuh193162
Coosa185547
Lowndes178268
Wilcox177638
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 53°
Columbus
Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 55°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 50°
Starkville
Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 48°
High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for the next few days. This will keep our area on the dry side and on the unseasonably warm side for this time of the year. We will see most high temperatures well into the 70s over the next few afternoons.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather