President Obama has decided to tone down his administration's rhetoric and dial back their response to North Korean threats, according to the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. is putting a pause to what several officials described as a step-by-step plan the Obama administration approved earlier this year, dubbed "the playbook," that laid out the sequence and publicity plans for U.S. shows of force during annual war games with South Korea. The playbook included well-publicized flights in recent weeks near North Korea by nuclear-capable B-52 and stealth B-2 bombers, as well as advanced F-22 warplanes.
The U.S. stepped back from the plans this week, as U.S. officials began to worry that the North, which has a small nuclear arsenal and an unpredictable new leader, may be more provoked than the U.S. had intended, the officials said.
"The concern was that we were heightening the prospect of misperceptions on the part of the North Koreans, and that that could lead to miscalculations," a senior administration official said.
Officials said the U.S. didn't believe North Korea had any imminent plans to take military action in response to the exercises. Rather, the shift reflects concerns within the administration that the North, caught off guard, could do something rash, contrary to intelligence assessments showing that it is unlikely to respond militarily to the U.S. show of force.
The shift also came after the Navy confirmed reports on Monday that the U.S. had sent two guided-missile destroyers to the waters off South Korea--a deployment that the White House and Pentagon hadn't intended to publicize and wasn't part of the playbook, officials said.
Officials said publicizing the destroyers risked ratcheting up tensions with the North more than the White House had intended. Likewise, they said, White House officials became upset because the disclosure wasn't in keeping with the orchestrated rollout it had sought to control.
The administration says it will put the next steps in the playbook on hold while they assess North Korea's response.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it is likely to make conflict less of a possibility. Kim already knows we're not intimidated given all the recent military moves we've made - including sending an anti-missile system to Guam to protect our base there. By dialing things back, we don't force the North Koreans to respond to our response and ratchet up tensions even further.
Kim is way out on a limb and perhaps the only way to prevent a war is to give him the opportunity to climb down without losing face. No one knows the strength of his domestic political position, but given the alternative, administration policy sounds just about right.