"There's no such thing as a limited strike, whether or not you use a nuclear cruise missile," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) to reporters on Wednesday. "You will have massive, massive noncombatant injuries, casualties, as well as military casualties."
"A lot of Americans don't understand that, and I don't think the president understands that from the way he tweets."
Duckworth, along with Rep. Ruben Gallego (R-AZ), travelled to Japan and South Korea earlier in January, where they met with military and civilian leaders from both nations. They returned to the States on Tuesday.
Gallago pushed for continued diplomacy and sanctions as a resolution to the crisis, not military force. "De-escalation of provocative words and acts by President Trump would be helpful, and continued pressure on Russia and China to fully implement our sanctions regime."
Although they did not name Tillerson, Duckworth and Gallago's comments are a clear response to the words of the Secretary of State. Tillerson said on Tuesday that while the White House was continuing to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis that has ensorceled the planet since April, the North had yet to show itself to be a "credible negotiating partner."
When asked about the possibility of a "limited" or "strategic" strike against North Korean nuclear sites, Tillerson replied, "we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation." He added that North Korean missile tests were showing rapid advancement of their nuclear and missile programs and that the situation was quickly reaching a breaking point as a result.
"We have to recognize that the threat is growing and that if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation then they themselves will trigger an option," he said.
Republic Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina offered a different take. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, the influential senator said he was "100 percent confident" that war was the "last resort" of the US military. "I don't think you can surgically strike North Korea," Graham said. "When I say the military option is the last resort, I mean it, because thousands of people can be killed."
However, he stressed the importance of not taking the option off the table. "I know there are some red lines in the president's' mind," said Graham. "I know there are some red lines that our intel community believes exist. I'm certainly not going to share them publicly, but this is not an ill-conceived idea. When that moment comes is when their program matures and goes across these red lines."
In addition, Graham added, the potential of war on its borders was a powerful negotiating tool against China. "If China really believes Trump would use military force coming from North Korea, I believe they would change their behavior," Graham said. "They own the North Korean economy."
In addition to its burgeoning nuclear program, North Korea is believed to have between 2,700 and 5,500 tons of chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, nerve gas, weaponized smallpox and cholera strains, blister, blood, and vomiting agents. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated in 2011 that North Korea has the third largest stockpile of such weapons in the world.
North Korea has also stockpiled enormous amounts of conventional arms and has positioned much of them close to the border with South Korea. Although the claim has attracted controversy, military sources believe that North Korean artillery could barrage Seoul to massive effect before the American or South Korean militaries could react — and 25 million people, nearly half the population of the country, live in Seoul.