Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) estimated this week that there is a 30 percent chance that President Donald Trump will preemptively strike North Korea in order to prevent the communist regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States.
Graham’s remarks follow a series of missile tests by North Korea, including a July test of an intercontinental ballistic missile the country said could strike anywhere in the world. Experts have expressed growing concern about the volatile Kim regime’s ability to strike the United States.
In November, North Korea claimed they successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a "super-large heavy warhead" capable of striking the US mainland. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters at the time that the test was “higher, frankly, than any previous shot they have taken.”
The tests have lead to growing tensions between the United States and Pyongyang.
What did Graham say?
In an interview with The Atlantic, Graham said: “I would say there’s a three in 10 chance we use the military option.”
Graham also predicted that, if North Korea conducts another test of a nuclear bomb, the chances would rise: “I would say 70 percent.”
Graham said the issue of North Korean aggression “comes up all the time” when he talks to the president, including during their latest round of golf.
“War with North Korea is an all-out war against the regime,” Graham said. “There is no surgical strike option. Their [nuclear-weapons] program is too redundant, it’s too hardened, and you gotta assume the worst, not the best. So if you ever use the military option, it’s not to just neutralize their nuclear facilities—you gotta be willing to take the regime completely down.”
Graham said that “we’re not to the tipping point yet,” but “if they test another [nuclear] weapon, then all bets are off.”
Graham said he takes the possibility of war seriously enough that he would be open to entering into talks with North Korea, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of a summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
He said he would support direct talks with the regime “without a whole lot of preconditions,” a statement The Atlantic noted is “noteworthy” given Graham’s reputation as a North Korea hawk.
“I’m not taking anything off the table to avoid a war,” he said, adding, “When they write the history of the times, I don’t want them to say, ‘Hey, Lindsey Graham wouldn’t even talk to the guy.’”
“I don’t know how to say it any more direct: If nothing changes, Trump’s gonna have to use the military option, because time is running out,” Graham continued. “I don’t care if North Korea becomes a Chinese protectorate. … I don’t care who [the Chinese] put in charge of North Korea, as long as that person doesn’t want to create a massive nuclear arsenal to threaten America.”
Graham argued, “There are a couple ways for this to end.”
“The Chinese could kill the guy if they wanted to, or they could just stop oil shipments [to North Korea], which would bring [Kim Jong Un’s] economy to [its] knees.”
Graham said North Korea “is the ultimate outlier in world order.” The country is often referred to as the Hermit Kingdom because it is so isolated from the rest of the world by its government. The brutal Kim regime has been accused of human rights abuses including torturing its defectors and and imprisoning them in gulags.
The senator’s solutions to the conflict pointed to a regime change, an option the Trump administration has denied pursuing.
“It is a country built around the philosophy of the divinity of a family,” Graham said. “And the person who’s inherited the mantle is, on a good day, unstable. Look what they did: He’s killed his own half-brother, blew his uncle up with an anti-aircraft gun. … I don’t know how to put North Korea in a historical context.”