In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy warned: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
He invited the Soviet Union to “begin anew the quest for peace,” but warned his countrymen: “We dare not tempt them with weakness.”
President Donald Trump’s critics have forgotten that lesson.
When Trump warned Kim Jong-un this week that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” his critics, from both parties, pounced, accusing him of provoking a potential nuclear confrontation.
Perhaps worst of all, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) all but advised North Korea not to worry about anything: “The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act and I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act.”
If there is anything we have learned about President Trump in the 200 or so days he has been in office, it is that he means what he says — especially when it comes to military force.
On April 5, he warned that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had crossed “many, many lines” by using chemical weapons in an attack on civilians. The next day, the president ordered dramatic, surprise airstrikes on the Syrian air field from which the weapons had been launched.
The smart set in the foreign policy establishment assure us that “we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” as former National Security Adviser Susan Rice put it Thursday in the New York Times, because Kim Jong-un knows that attacking the U.S. would mean the end of his regime.
But he need not attack to achieve his objectives. By aiming nuclear-tipped ICBMs aimed at us, he can weaken us and impose his will on our allies.
That is why Kennedy rejected the deployment of Soviet missiles to Cuba.
The Cuban missile crisis happened partly because the Soviets mistakenly believed that Kennedy was weak. That miscalculation nearly led to nuclear war.
It was the same error Nazi Germany made in August 1940, when it began bombing Britain, believing that the new British government under former outcast Winston Churchill would soon collapse in favor of a more pliant one.
Trump’s opponents in the media and on Capitol Hill are creating exactly the same circumstances. They are telling the world that Trump is weak, and that he might even be impeached.
The North Koreans are certainly paying close attention. Their own media may be comically primitive, but their cyberattack on Hollywood in 2014, which all but shut down the film The Interview, showed that the North Korean regime understands the U.S. media all too well.
That is not to say that political opposition is dangerous, or unpatriotic. But it should be responsible. What Trump’s opponents should be doing is rallying behind the president against a common existential threat, while still pursuing whatever other grievances they have against him.
We can, and should, debate what to do about North Korea. But we should not give aid and comfort to the enemy by blaming our president for the crisis or weakening his ability to act.
Among the worst ideas Trump’s opponents have proposed is a bill sponsored by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) that would “prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress.” That would destroy the element of surprise necessary for such a strike to succeed, and provoke a first strike by the enemy.
Such nonsense, motivated by anti-Trump hysteria, may tempt North Korea to stay on its present course, which can only lead to war.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.