February 01, 2018 09:33
The White House has decided at the last minute not to nominate prominent Korea-policy wonk Victor Cha as ambassador to South Korea.
Cha, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, apparently fell foul of U.S. President Donald Trump by opposing his "bloody nose" strategy of launching a limited strike against North Korea. On Tuesday, the White House confirmed that it is no longer considering Cha and is looking for another candidate.
The Washington Post reported that Cha's views clashed with Trump's "bloody nose" strategy as well as Trump's decision to renegotiate the free trade agreement with South Korea. Cha voiced his concerns in discussions with high-ranking members of the White House's National Security Council.
His withdrawal sends a worrying signal that the Trump administration is seriously considering a military strike against North Korea. Abraham Denmark, a former Pentagon official, tweeted, "It's clear that the 'bloody nose option' is very real and under consideration by the Trump administration. People didn't believe it a few weeks ago -- now it's undeniable."
The White House withdrew the nomination after the South Korean government had already granted agrément and did not inform Seoul about the decision.
The Trump administration's Korea policy is in such disarray that the ambassador's post remains vacant a full year after the last incumbent left.
Cha, who was an adviser to President George W. Bush, wrote a column in the Washington Post the same day saying that a limited strike on North Korea "would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans."
There had already been concerns that the vetting had dragged on for too long, but nobody had expected the White House to drop its nomination, since it also took almost a year before Jon Huntsman was named ambassador to Russia and Randall Schriver assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security affairs.
The Financial Times reported that the White House "stopped returning calls" from Cha after he expressed concerns over the military option and he was told last weekend that the nomination process had stopped.
The NSC asked him if he was ready to support the evacuation of American citizens in South Korea ahead of a military strike against North Korea and he expressed reservations.
Pundits say this was a defeat for the doves within the Trump administration led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who backed Cha and favors a diplomatic solution, and a victory for the hawks led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Or Trump was being capricious. One Korea expert in Washington said, "The president may have suddenly decided he wanted another person. This is a completely possible scenario in the Trump administration."
It remains to be seen if and when he can find someone else.
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