Brennan: Trump Aides May Need to Talk Him Out of War

Image: Former CIA Director John Brennan tesifies on Capitol Hill in Washington
Former CIA director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 23, 2017.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

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By Adam Edelman

Former CIA Director John Brennan, noting that President Donald Trump has escalated tensions with North Korea to a dangerous level, said Thursday that Cabinet members and other senior officials may need to step in as "governors" over the president to prevent war.

Speaking on NBC's "TODAY" show, Brennan said that while Trump was "trying to demonstrate he’s tough" with hostile rhetoric aimed at North Korea, he lacks experience with "international brinkmanship," and that could put top officials — like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — in the position of having to talk the commander in chief out of military conflict.

Military leaders, past and present, "know the risks of escalation, they know just how dangerous the situation is, and I think they are governors on the president's instincts to continue to try to intimidate and bully," said Brennan, who served as the CIA chief during President Barack Obama’s second term.

And while Trump, as president, would have "unilateral authority to be able to authorize military action," the order to do so "goes through Secretary Mattis," who could "either try to talk him out of it, disagree with it, carry it out, or, or not," Brennan said.

Brennan added that Mattis, Dunford and Kelly were "patriots" who "understand the gravity of the situation" in North Korea, while saying he believes that Trump does not.

Trump has fired increasingly dire warnings of military action at Pyongyang in recent months. In September, he said the U.S. was "totally prepared" for "devastating" action, just a day after North Korea's foreign minister said the president had "declared war" on his country and that Kim's regime would consider shooting down American bombers.

Brennan said that such "caustic" talk showed Trump was "trying to intimidate opponents" but that it had only resulted in raising tensions, not lessening them.

"I’m concerned there could be some kind of clash between North Korean and South Korean forces," he said.