Sen. Corker’s ‘World War III’ comment is only making things worse

  • Senator Bob Corker's comments about President Trump and World War III have made things more volatile, not less.
  • They also divide us at a time when there is tension with countries such as North Korea and Iran.
  • If Trump critics really want him to be more restrained, they should look in the mirror.

Senator Bob Corker's ominous public attacks on President Donald Trump hit a disturbing point this weekend after he told the New York Times in an interview that the president was treating his job like a "reality show," and that his rashness could set the country "on the path to World War III."

Corker might want to look in the mirror first.

Because the best path to avoiding World War III, especially with historically unhinged nations like North Korea and Iran, is to stop mimicking President Trump's behavior and present as united a front as possible.

To be clear, anyone is more than free to criticize this president and his policies. But people like Corker need to tone down the public nature of their alarm if they are truly hoping to avoid emboldening our rivals with the hope that the United States is too divided to confront or challenge them. Worse, just as Corker was hoping to make his point about how President Trump's lack of control could lead to conflict, he did the same thing by rushing to a newspaper known as highly critical of all Republicans and conservative causes and quickly connecting a doomsday scenario to the whole affair. For someone trying to pass himself off as a crusader for calm, Corker has done the complete opposite.

"As scary as Iran and North Korea truly are, the president's actions and comments may not be as incendiary as Corker and others say."

And Corker is probably the absolute worst Republican to make these criticisms. Conservatives continue to blame him for making parliamentary missteps that led to the sealing of the Iran nuclear deal under President Obama in 2015 which many believe has brought us closer to war as opposed to further from it.

You don't need to be a professional psychiatrist to know that President Trump almost never seems to respond to public criticisms with anything but a full blown counterattack. Corker may be trying to pull off an "aw shucks" kind of excuse for trying to urge more presidential calm. But he can't possibly pretend that Sunday's interview with the Times would accomplish anything close to that.

And the fact that the Times and many other pundits are immediately taking this Corker-Trump feud as a sign that the Trump tax-reform plan may be doomed in the Senate is another example of how messed up things have become. Their willingness to lump in trying to avoid World War III with corporate tax rate schedules shows how insincere they may be about truly worrying about a cataclysmic war.

That's the kind of message that hurts us with other nations. If we don't seem serious, it's a boost for them. As scary as Iran and North Korea truly are, the president's actions and comments may not be as incendiary as Corker and others say. Even Michael O'Hanlon of the moderate-to-left-leaning Brookings Institution said today that he believes that the White House is potentially promoting a very good strategy of making sure Pyongyang and Tehran don't get too comfortable.

Again, none of this means that Republicans, Democrats, White House staffers, or even Trump family members shouldn't express real concerns about the way the president is communicating or his actual policies. But doomsday scenario-laden interviews in the New York Times aren't the way to do it and that should be beyond clear to everyone now.

This wouldn't be the first time other nations have clung to internal discord in hopes of undermining a sitting president's tougher policies against them. The Soviets furiously tried to fuel liberal critiques of President Reagan as a war monger during the 1980s in the face of an increased U.S. military buildup in Europe and the development of the "Star Wars" antimissile program. Those scare tactics bled into every part of the national discourse, even the entertainment media with the 1983 TV movie "The Day After" after a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war being the absolute height of angst and fear.

Sound familiar?

But after Reagan's landslide re-election victory in 1984 and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev to power in the USSR, those efforts took a backseat to serious negotiations that led to an end to the Cold War.

It's way too early for even the most fervent Trump supporters to insist the same happy results will come from this president's tougher talk and potential actions. But we do already know that when necessary political opposition and criticism morphs into doomsday scare tactics, the constructive element fades away quickly.

If Senator Corker and his peers really want to bring us further back from the brink of war and promote restraint, they should start exhibiting more of their own.

Commentary by Jake Novak, senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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