While nuclear tensions between the US and North Korea have ratcheted up to crisis levels, the US still doesn't have an ambassador to South Korea.
The Trump administration reportedly rejected the leading candidate in a move that seems to confirm the worst fears of many on President Donald Trump's approach to Pyongyang.
The White House turned down Victor Cha, a widely endorsed and highly qualified candidate for the ambassadorship to South Korea, on Jan. 30 2018, the Washington Post first reported. Cha had previously served as director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.
Victor Cha on Nov. 8, 2012. (Image via Michael E. Macmillan/flickr)
Cha's dismissal owes to his disagreement Trump's plan to attack North Korea with a "bloody nose" strike, or a limited military strike in response to some North Korean provocation, according to multiple outlets.
People familiar with the talks to bring Cha on board, which had been going on for about a year, said that the final straw came when Cha disapproved of plans to evacuate US citizens from South Korea's capital of Seoul in the run-up to a US strike on North Korea, both the FT and New York Times report.
In a Washington Post op-ed published after news broke that he was no longer being considered for the ambassador post, Cha wrote, "The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size US city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of US kinetic power."
Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against North Korea has brought about increased diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on Pyongyang. While many see Cha as a hawk on North Korea, as he has written extensively about forcing China's hand to defund Pyongyang, even Cha apparently couldn't stomach the lengths the Trump administration was willing to go to.
The case for a limited strike on North Korea asserts that the US can calculate a strike big enough to matter, but small enough to keep Kim Jong Un from retaliating. Since word of the "bloody nose" strategy made its way out of Trump's inner circle, a growing chorus of experts have condemned the plan as downright absurd and dangerous.
California Rep. John Garamendi told Business Insider that the US should focus on diplomacy, which would require an adequately staffed White House and the reversal of the "destruction of the US Department of State and that soft power" which comes with it.
The dismissal of the hawkish Cha shows that the Trump administration is serious about using force against North Korea, and is willing to dispense with diplomatic manpower in favor of military muscle.