Early Tuesday morning, Japanese civilians woke to blaring warning sirens. North Korea fired a ballistic missile that flew directly over the populous northern island of Hokkaido. Is that Steve Bannon's fault? Maybe.
The Trump administration has been resolute in facing down North Korea. Though unconventional, the president's message has been consistent: The United States will not tolerate nuclear threats. Trump famously threatened "fire and fury." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised "an overwhelming response." Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cautioned Pyongyang to knock off anything that "would lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people."
But then Bannon called their bluff.
"There's no military solution here," the former Breitbart CEO said in an out-of-the-blue interview with the liberal magazine the American Prospect. "There's no military solution [to North Korea's nuclear threats], forget it." Bannon said, supposedly off the record. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons."
For all its nuclear posturing, North Korea has thousands of artillery pieces positioned north of the Demilitarized Zone and trained directly at Seoul. Any move against that regime would trigger a devastating, concentrated artillery barrage rivaling the WWI bombardments of the Somme or Verdun.
So maybe Bannon's technically right. Still, there are things that you don't say out loud while dealing with a madman. His remarks could only embolden an already aggressive regime. Perhaps his loose lips loosed an intercontinental ballistic missile?
In response to the Tuesday launch, Trump repeated his threat "all options are on the table." Clearly North Korea doesn't believe him.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.