Only a late intervention from the Pentagon stopped President Donald Trump’s Twitter account starting a war on the Korean Peninsula, Bob Woodward revealed Sunday.
In an interview with CBS, the veteran journalist described an incident where Trump drafted a tweet signaling that the families of U.S. troops would be withdrawn from South Korea — a message that would be interpreted by North Korea as a warning of an imminent attack.
“He drafts a tweet saying, ‘We are going to pull our dependents from South Korea — family members of the 28,000 people there’,” Woodward said.
Only the actions of the Pentagon and a backchannel warning from Pyongyang informing the White House the tweet would be seen as preempting a U.S. attack prevented the post from being sent, he added.
“At that moment, there was a sense of profound alarm in the Pentagon leadership that, ‘My God, one tweet and we have reliable information that the North Koreans are going to read this as ‘an attack is imminent,’” Woodward continued.
The renowned Watergate journalist is currently promoting his latest book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which describes an administration steeped in paranoia, with aides toiling daily to prevent Trump inadvertently causing a national security crisis.
The revelations came on the same day that Trump praised North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after a parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state went against tradition and omitted intercontinental ballistic missiles from the event.
The toned-down parade was broadly welcomed by experts. “The omission [of the missiles] is a strong signal to Washington that Pyongyang still wants talks to succeed,” John Hemmings, Asia director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News.
An editorial in the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh says that the ball is now in Trump’s court: “Now is the time for Trump to respond with corresponding action. Most critical is quickly sending Pompeo back to North Korea.”
Pompeo was due to travel to Pyongyang last month but the trip was nixed hours before the Secretary of State was due to fly after Trump took umbrage at a letter written by Kim Yong Chol, the former head of North Korea's spy agency.
While Trump has publicly praised Kim and North Korea, his administration is taking a more aggressive stance toward the regime as a result of multiple reports that Pyongyang is continuing to produce nuclear weapons.
Although Washington is putting pressure on Pyongyang, that work is being undermined by Beijing, which is continuing to pursue closer ties with North Korea.
China's third-highest-ranking official, Li Zhanshu, was in Pyongyang Sunday for the anniversary parade, and plans are being put in place for President Xi Jinping to travel to Pyongyang before the end of the year — signs that Kim wants to cement closer ties as a bulwark against increased sanctions by the international community.
Cover image: Donald Trump departs the White House on September 6, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)