News & Politics

Trump Nearly Brought the U.S. to War with North Korea—Until Mattis and Kelly Intervened: Report

In a new profile of H.R. McMaster, a New Yorker reporter says that Trump asked for a plan that would have put the U.S. on "war footing" with North Korea.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy L. Mosier

While President Donald Trump is currently planning to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the coming months in an attempt to negotiate on peaceful terms, a new report from the New Yorker reveals that the United States may have recently come closer to war with the rogue regime than most people realize.

In a profile of former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, the magazine's Patrick Radden Keefe reports that the general's proclivity for favoring process over substance when managing the president risked sleepwalking the country into a potentially disastrous military conflict. He writes:

According to multiple senior officials, in early January the President asked his staff to present him with a range of evacuation plans for the approximately two hundred thousand American civilians who live in South Korea. (On TV, Senator Lindsey Graham was calling for dependents of U.S. soldiers there to be brought home.) Any evacuation would send a profoundly alarming signal to South Korea, and inevitably put the U.S. and North Korea on a war footing. McMaster and his staff dutifully began gathering options for the President.

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Any such plans — and perhaps even rumors that the president had requested them — would have undoubtedly spooked the nuclear-armed Kim and risked unleashing a devastating war. 

Keefe reports, though, that it was more grounded minds who won the day. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly intervened and any efforts to plan the imminent withdraw Americans from South Korea were scrapped.

In light of this story, it may be fortuitous that McMaster no longer works at the White House while Kelly and Mattis remain key figures in the administration. But it gives a chilling impression of how decisions are being made at the highest levels and how little power the institutions of the federal government have to constrain the president.

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.