A CNN debate between Republican strategist Rick Wilson and CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson devolved into a yelling match that anchor Brooke Baldwin lost control of Wednesday. The debate was over the wisdom and utility of President Donald Trump’s threat to North Korea that was replayed across the world Tuesday.
“Ben’s answer to you betrays a level of naïveté about nuclear weapons and about the Korean peninsula in specific that is utterly staggering,” Wilson responded. “That is some weapons grade stupidity right there. Because the fact of the matter is you don’t threaten people — the deterrence model is this. You say to another country if you hit me with nuclear weapons I will respond.”
“Listen carefully because you’re having a hard time understanding this,” Ferguson mocked. “There are other options militarily besides only nuclear options. ‘Fire and fury’ does not necessarily mean only push the red button for a nuclear war.
“It is incredibly incompetent and ignorant to imply that the only option that our military has is to actually do nuclear war,” he explained. “That is not what the president said yesterday.”
“By which you therefore accept the fact that South Korea will endure millions of casualties,” Wilson interjected.
“That is not what the president said yesterday,” Ferguson protested, “you’re implying that there’s only one option. There is more than one option.”
“Let me cut through this for a second,” Baldwin interrupted. “Ben I totally understand the point you’re making and how Rick you’re arguing against it, and so to Ben’s point if the diplomacy thus far has not been working what in your opinion, and you have the State Department saying lets give it a shot, let’s get North Korea at the table, in your opinion what is the best option?”
“Look, you have to move this into a deterrence frame,” Wilson replied. “And a deterrence frame is not threatening a pre-emptive strike. A deterrence frame is — if weapons are deployed and used by North Korea, then a nuclear response is on the table. But you don’t lay it out there. And Donald Trump was not talking about a conventional strike. The language was hardly coded.”
“You’re telling me the only time the president can use the words ‘fire and fury’ is literally if nuclear weapons are in the air?” Ferguson asked. “Are you literally kidding me right now?”
“If you’re gonna pull something out of the book of Isaiah, in terms of…” Wilson responded.
“That is the worst foreign policy I’ve heard of in my entire life!” Ferguson interrupted.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) August 9, 2017
“Ben, there are boundaries and there are ways you talk about deterrence,” Wilson explained. “General Mattis did it right today, Donald Trump shot from the lip as he usually does because he’s ignorant of history, he’s ignorant of strategy, he’s ignorant of diplomacy and he’s certainly ignorance of the use of deterrence in nuclear warfare.”
“The foreign policy you’ve been describing has been a failure over the last year,” Ferguson interrupted, “when the president says he’s going to protect and defend the United States of America and then the only option you give the president is nuclear war, that just shows that you have no understanding of war.”
“Ben, if you strike North Korea with conventional weapons,” Wilson shot back, “you understand that the most heavily armored area of the world for artillery is on the South Korean border with North Korea. They will slog the hell out of South Korea and out of Seoul. This is not going to be pretty, and you’re saying that you think there are no consequences to this kind of action and it’s really irresponsible.”
The debate was representative of that between those who believed Trump’s very candid threat was refreshing and helpful, and those who saw it as an example of his tendency to lash out emotionally. North Korea responded by indicating that they were considering attacking the U.S. territory of Guam.
Senators from both sides of the aisle denounced the statement, but many of the president’s allies defended his threatening statement.