On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that the recent U.S. bombings of Syria and Afghanistan were nothing but a warning message for North Korea, contradicting earlier statements from the White House.
Speaking in Seoul next to South Korea’s acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn, Pence warned North Korea to end its nuclear program and referred to the bombings in Syria and Afghanistan as proof of U.S. resolve.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Pence told reporters, after visiting the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. “North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.”
Pence’s comments directly contradict Trump’s earlier statements about the strikes in Syria and Afghanistan.
After the U.S. military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan last Thursday, a 21,000 pound weapon nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” Trump said it wasn’t meant to be a message to North Korea. “It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not — North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of,” he told reporters.
And earlier this month, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat airbase in Syria purportedly in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 90 people two days earlier. The airstrike was seen as an escalation in U.S. involvement in Syria, as it was targeting the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is suspected to have committed the attack.
Although U.S. policy toward Syria is still completely incoherent, in announcing the strike, Trump linked it to preventing future chemical attacks. “It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said. After the strike, the White House maintained that it was for humanitarian reasons, and Trump was reportedly swayed by his daughter being “heartbroken and outraged” by the chemical attack.
But less than two weeks later, Pence’s comments make clear that these bombings served a different purpose: as warnings for North Korea. This becomes even more obvious when considering the context. Trump announced the strike in Syria while hosting a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and the strike achieved little lasting impact— in fact, the Shayrat airbase was up and running the next day.
Using other countries as a warning message for North Korea is inhumane. Meaningless gestures in Syria are unfair to the people who have been embroiled in a conflict for more than six years. And as former Afghan President Hamid Karzai pointed out last week, Afghanistan is not a “testing ground” for the U.S. military.
Equally important, the messages doesn’t seem to be working to dissuade North Korea. A North Korean Foreign Ministry official pointed to the airstrike in Syria as proof that its nuclear weapons are necessary to protect itself from the U.S. “evermore reckless moves for a war.” And just hours before Pence arrived in Seoul on Saturday, North Korea launched another ballistic missile that the Washington Post reported could theoretically reach the United States (although it exploded in a few seconds). On Friday, North Korea accused Trump of “making trouble” with “aggressive” tweets.
In an interview with Fox & Friends on Monday, Eric Trump — who, as the head of the Trump Organization, is not supposed to be involved in the White House — hinted that his father’s administration will take action in the future on North Korea, and similarly pointed to Syria and Afghanistan.
“You pray for peace, but he will show real leadership,” Eric Trump said, directly after being asked about the message the administration is trying to send to North Korea. “And that’s something that hasn’t occurred in the past, and it will start occurring, and you saw that quite frankly in Syria, and you saw that in Afghanistan.”
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) April 17, 2017
“You don’t want there to be death and destruction and turmoil around the world, but again, you have to have massive backbone when it comes to dealing with awful, awful dictators who don’t like us, don’t like our way of life, don’t like us as a civilization. He will protect America, make no mistake about it.”