We're Close to Going to War With North Korea, According to Sen. Lindsey Graham

In an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham revealed that President Donald Trump personally told him he wouldn't allow North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to continue developing nuclear missiles with the potential to incinerate U.S. cities.

"There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue trying to hit America with an [intercontinental ballistic missile]," Graham said Trump told him.

After decades of slow, steady progress, North Korea's weapons of mass destruction programs have gone into overdrive during the Trump administration. The country has conducted 12 missile tests since Trump's inauguration, firing 18 short and medium-range missiles.

ICBM's — the long-range, nuclear-capable missile — were always the end-game for Un's regime, giving it the capability to protect itself from invasion or regime change. And despite Trump promising on Twitter that it "wouldn't happen," Kim achieved his goal with the first North Korean ICBM test, in early July.

While that missile likely only could have hit Alaska, North Korea recently had a second ICBM on July 28, and based on its trajectory, size, speed, and flight time, this one might be able to go as far as 6,200 miles.

"The models we’ve created based on the size of the missile and the power of the engine show that it can reach the continental US, probably New York and [Washington] DC,” nuclear arms expert Jeffrey Lewis told Vox the day the missile was tested.

In response, the U.S. and South Korea conducted joint live fire military exercises, which included nuclear-capable B1 bombers flying over the Korean Peninsula. But if Graham's words hold true, the U.S. might be preparing for the worst case scenario through direct military action.

“There is a military option: to destroy North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea itself,” Graham told Lauer. "If there’s going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there."

While the president might believe that North Korea's nuclear program can be "destroyed," most experts in the military capabilities of the Hermit Kingdom vehemently disagree. North Korea has a massive military, between 8,000 to 12,000 artillery pieces in range of South Korea's capitol Seoul, and at least some quantity of poison gas. They'd all be used to defend the Kim regime in the event of war.

In an extensive story for the Atlantic, "Black Hawk Down" author Mark Bowden interviewed numerous foreign policy experts, former military officers, and White House staffers.

What he found is that the U.S. has four different options for dealing with North Korea, and that "all of them are bad."

1. An all-out strike to take out every North Korean nuclear site, military asset, and the country's entire leadership. While this would likely remove North Korea as a threat, the experts Bowden spoke with didn't believe every weapons system could be hit, and the survivors would retaliate against U.S. troops or Seoul, leading to thousands of deaths via conventional artillery, gas, or nuclear strike.

2. Limited but powerful strikes against known nuclear targets, leaving the leadership alone. This would "almost certainly start an escalating cycle of attack/counterattack," Bowden wrote.

3. Assassinating Un either at close-range or via missile strike, neither of which are especially feasible due to the massive security apparatus around him.

4. Accepting North Korea's missile program as a fact of life, and finding a diplomatic solution.

It should be noted that the ICBM test technically failed, as the missile burned up before it touched the ground. Experts believe it could be several more years before North Korea masters the guidance and navigation of an ICBM, and that they don't have the capability to build a warhead small enough to fit on a missile.

The Trump administration responded to questions about Graham's comments only with its standard line that "all options are on the table." And despite Trump's seeming desire for war, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to tap the brakes on war Tuesday, telling the press that the U.S. doesn't "seek regime change" or military action.

"We are not your enemy, we are not your threat, but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond," Tillerson said, seemingly addressing Un personally. "We would like to sit and have a dialog about the future."