WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — In the wake of President Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea over its nuclear program in an address at the United Nations, Democrats on Capitol Hill said Wednesday that the president’s incendiary words may be counterproductive to the effort to end the conflict peacefully.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been stepping up testing of missiles, firing them over Japan twice in recent weeks, and experts believe his scientists may have detonated a thermonuclear device. Trump has frequently made threats of overwhelming military force if North Korean provocations continue to escalate, but his speech Tuesday was particularly blunt.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., blasted Trump’s rhetoric.
“This man is not fit to be commander-in-chief of the greatest military on the face of the earth,” the Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient said. “That is not the kind of language the commander-in-chief of the United States military should be using.”
Though past presidents have also leveled existential threats against the North Korean regime, Duckworth was troubled by Trump’s explicit threat that the U.S. military would “destroy an entire nation.”
“We work with our allies in Japan and South Korea, and to make these threats when our allies by treaty are on the front lines is really foolish and very dangerous on his part,” she said.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., was less emphatic in his criticism, but he said Trump’s words were “not helpful” to the sensitive diplomatic effort needed to resolve the crisis.
“It’s going to require diplomacy, it’s going to require negotiation, and it’s also going to require the Chinese to step up and do what they need to do,” Peters said. “The Chinese have the type of influence necessary to stop North Korea from moving forward and we need to move in a diplomatic way.”
While not directly addressing Trump’s comments, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., also emphasized the importance of diplomacy and securing Chinese cooperation.
“There has to be intense, intense pressure from China, their major partner,” he said. “We haven’t been able to get China to generate that pressure. There’s still hope to do so, we have on occasion gotten them to the negotiating table, gotten a freeze on their program, but we need that freeze now, we need that dialogue now, and we need to work together with the nations to shut down this program.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Trump’s speech delivered important messages to both Kim Jong Un and the U.N. in general.
“He let the world know and the U.N. know that we’re not going to be doing business as usual,” he said.
Shelby defended Trump’s threat against North Korea as essentially stating the only possible response to a nuclear attack against the U.S. or its allies.
“If he uses nuclear weapons against us or our allies, we will have to respond and there’s not but one way to respond to a nuclear attack, and that would be with one,” he said.
He added that this is not a desirable outcome, but “you’re dealing with somebody that’s not very rational.”