At Iowa Press taping, former defense secretary Hagel says he sees no military solution in North Korea

'At what cost?' he asks regarding potential military action

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, in a November 14, 2014 file photo. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/files)
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, in a November 14, 2014 file photo. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/files)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There is no military solution to the escalating North Korean aggression, according to former soldier, senator and defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

“At what cost?” Hagel asked Tuesday during taping of Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, which will air this weekend. Hagel was visiting Iowa to Seventh Annual Culver Lecture at Simpson College. Hagel also sits on the PBS board of directors.

“South Korea’s gone” if the United States would take military action in response to Kim Jong Un’s ballistic missile and nuclear program, he predicted.

A military response to North Korea would result in thousands, perhaps millions, of civilian deaths, said Hagel, who was critical of Trump’s bellicose responses to Kim, including his reference to the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man.” The world and the American public expect more from the U.S. president, he said.

A better response might be to accept that North Korea has nuclear capabilities and use the Iranian peace deal as a model for an ongoing relationship that involves several nations, Hagel said.

Hagel, 70, who fell out of favor with the GOP when he accepted President Barack Obama’s invitation to serve as secretary of defense, said he remains a Republican. However, the two-term senator from Nebraska said he would support “someone else for president other than Trump” in 2020.


Trump, he said, has rejected basic Republican ideas like free trade and engagement — actions that make the world less safe and limit opportunity for Midwest farmers and food producers. No nation has benefited from trade as much as the United States, Hagel said. American benefits when the world prospers, he added.

Iowa Press can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on IPTV, at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on IPTV World and online at

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