As the North Koreans continue to lob missiles into nearby seas and White House staff issues tough-talking but anonymous threats, we might to do well to take the advice of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
"North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile," Tillerson said in a terse statement. "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
This is probably the best way to deal with the latest temper tantrum from a country that has menaced the region and exploited regional tensions with missiles for a quarter century. Ignore it.
The North Korean regime feeds on attention and tries to use its missiles and nuclear brinksmanship as a bargaining chip to ensure their survival and feed their people, starving thanks to their totalitarian ways.
Often, North Korea's missile tests appear scheduled around events in foreign countries—South Koreans go to the polls May 9 to replace the impeached Park Geun-hye. The frontrunner Moon Jae-in has promised more engagement with North Korea.
He's also said he'd review the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system that began this year after being agreed to several years ago. That deployment has irked China, which nevertheless is careful to keep that issue separate from negotiations over North Korea, despite the two being obviously intertwined. President Trump and China President Xi Jinping are also set to meet in Mar-a-Lago later this month.
An anonymous senior U.S. official said the "clock has now run out" on North Korea's nuclear program "and all options are on the table." The best option for the U.S., however, is to do nothing. Ultimately, it's in the best interests of the countries in the region—particularly South Korea, Japan, and China—to work together to guarantee regional security.
Active U.S. involvement disincentivizes such cooperation and encourages polarization instead. China feels threatened by missile defense deployments because it believes those missiles are pointed at them. North Korea has repeatedly told South Korea, Japan and the U.S., its missiles have been and will be pointed at them. North Korea is a client state of China's, although often an uncooperative one thanks in part to its ability to exploit regional tensions.
The problem for years has been the lack of a coherent U.S. policy regarding China. George W. Bush left office a popular figure in China, credited with promoting free trade policies and spurning anti-Beijing rhetoric.
Since then, President Obama announced an "Asia pivot" a post-Iraq and Afghanistan wars policy sending more money, military assets, and other aid to U.S. allies surrounding China. The "pivot" rattled China and drove a more aggressive foreign policy. As late as 2015 the Obama administration was still confused as to why China had become more aggressive.
During his campaign Trump made China a top enemy. In advance of his his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Foreign Policy warned the Trump administration "has no idea what it's doing on China."
President Trump has an opportunity to reshape the U.S. role in Asia, to stop being the region's policeman, something Trump the candidate often promised. The administration could benefit from more no comments and fewer ultimatums.