WASHINGTON – Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said the North Korean regime “must be positively gleeful” over President Trump’s initial Twitter reaction to their recent nuclear test.
Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, argued that Trump and “too many members” of his administration “do not appreciate that the rhetoric they use and the actions they take to appeal to certain domestic political constituencies” could harm “relationships with foreign allies” and “undermine our nation’s security.”
Last weekend, Trump tweeted: “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”
“Consider, for example, President Trump’s initial reaction, via Twitter, to North Korea’s recent nuclear test. If there were any event whose gravity called for a thoughtful, deliberate and sober-minded response not limited to 140 characters, this was it. Unfortunately, the president turned again to social media. Even more troubling than the medium through which he chose to deliver his message was the message itself. The president accused South Korea, under President Moon, of appeasement, evoking the historical memory of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s failed effort to stop German aggression by agreeing to Hitler’s demands,” Murphy said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) during the ROK-U.S. Strategic Forum.
“Use of such a loaded term may play well with a certain segment of the president’s base, but it’s hard to overstate just how false, how foolish, and how potentially damaging this claim can be. Here we are facing an unprecedented threat of military escalation by a rogue nuclear state, and the leader of the most powerful nation on earth chooses to Twitter shame and inflame our close ally. If one of North Korea’s goals is to test the U.S.-South Korea alliance, as I believe it is, then Pyongyang must be positively gleeful over this Twitter exchange,” she added.
Murphy also expressed concern with the “inability of the administration to nominate and secure Senate confirmation of qualified individuals to fill positions at State and Defense responsible for policy toward the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.”
“There’s no nominated U.S. ambassador to Seoul. There’s no nominated assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. There’s no undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security. There’s no special envoy for the North Korean Human Rights Issues. Over at the Department of Defense, no individual has been nominated and confirmed for the position of assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs or deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia,” she said.
“I mean absolutely no disrespect to the individuals who may be holding these positions on an interim or acting basis – some of them are excellent,” the congresswoman continued. “But we all know that Senate confirmation provides enhanced credibility and stability, and when it comes to international affairs in general and alliance preservation in particular, personnel is policy.”
Murphy said the Trump administration is “severely lacking” foreign policy and diplomatic experts.
“I’m heartened that irresponsible individuals like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka have departed the administration and that experienced national security professionals like the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster seem to be gaining in influence,” she said. “Nevertheless, the fact remains that you need subject-matter experts in place at every level in the national security bureaucracy to develop and execute policy, to reassure allies, and to deter adversaries. The administration has been severely lacking in this respect.”
Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of State in the Bush administration, criticized Trump for his current position the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement known as KORUS.
“We’ve got a president here in the United States that’s bellowing about appeasement from South Korea and bellowing about the possibility of removing ourselves from KORUS, which is exactly the wrong thing to do in my view at this time,” Armitage said at the CSIS event.
Murphy shared a similar view on KORUS, saying she’s “worried” Trump will pull the U.S. out of the agreement.
“The United States and South Korea are major economic partners. The United States is South Korea’s second-largest trading partner, after China, and South Korea is the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner. The KORUS-FTA is the centerpiece of this important economic relationship. My purpose here is not to defend every clause in the KORUS-FTA, although I do believe it is on net a beneficial agreement for both countries,” she said.
“Instead, I want to emphasize that both President Bush and President Obama saw the KORUS-FTA as more than simply a trade deal. They also correctly viewed it as a vehicle to deepen and expand influence with a vital ally in a key region. China, notably, has an FTA with South Korea. For this and many other reasons, U.S. policymakers should want our economy and South Korea’s economy to be tied more closely together, not less,” she added.
Murphy fears that South Korea would view a “unilateral” withdraw from the agreement “as a betrayal of America’s commitment to the broader alliance at a precarious time.”
“If the United States cannot be trusted to do business with South Korea on the basis of a mutual agreement negotiated by two U.S. presidents of both political parties, why should South Korea believe our security assurances are real?” she asked. “I hope the Trump administration is asking itself hard questions like this, and that it will proceed with wisdom and care – two characteristics that have been in short supply thus far in this administration.”