As President Trump wraps up his trip around Asia, next steps for the U.S. and North Korea remain unclear. Early in his trip, the President left the door open for diplomatic talks between the two nations. And then, just a few days later, he tweeted that he would never call Kim Jong-un “short and fat” (after the North Korean leader called Trump “old”), practically slamming that same door shut.

It’s clear that Trump needs to dial down his inflammatory rhetoric – and maybe shut down his Twitter account entirely. Two leaders yelling at each other in an immature fashion can send unintended signals to their militaries, which could lead to a small miscalculation on either side –  the most likely path to full-blown war, as I told NBC News.

Overall, I think it’s China, not the U.S., that is finally starting to exert some real pressure on the Kim regime, which could explain the lack of recent provocations from the Hermit Kingdom. I discussed this on MSNBC over the weekend:

Concurrently, the U.S. has three carrier strike groups steaming into the Pacific, ready to participate in joint exercises with Japan. And, underling all of this, is the release of a searing and recommendation-laced report from the U.S. Navy, which is facing the hard business of accountability after the shocking loss of 17 sailors due to the crashes of the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald in the Pacific this summer.

The report highlights and mandates corrections in equipment and maintenance, training and qualification pipelines, and organizational oversight. While complex, these steps can largely be accomplished swiftly if they get the senior-level attention and resources they need. For decades, the surface forces have been the “poor cousin” of better-resourced nuclear powered fleet (submarines and nuclear aircraft carriers) and the aviation arm of the Navy. This needs to change.

Also critical is the longstanding insufficiency of the Navy’s size. The fleet count hovers around 275 vessels, but needs to grow to around 350 front-line warships. This will allow lower operational tempo, better rest cycles, and more training and ship-handling opportunities for officers coming up through the ranks.

Three clear lessons — applicable not just to the U.S. Navy but to any large, complex organization undertaking demanding work around the world – emerge:

  1. There is no easy way to substitute for basic experience – at the heart of skill comes the good, old-fashioned way: spending time performing hard tasks under demanding and challenging instructors;
  2. Institutional reputation can evaporate in an instant, but rebuilding it takes time; and
  3. Harsh accountability is painful but critical when facing serious damage.

I wrote an in-depth article on this for Bloomberg View. None of this is to bash the Navy. It will emerge stronger from this ordeal, and better at the basics of operating our ships. Every day, our sailors go out and serve our nation proudly.

And what about serving in the Trump administration? What I tell our students is there are so many ways to serve this nation: police, fire and rescue, first responders, Peace Corps, Teach for America, America Corps, US Foreign Service, US AID workers, career civil servants, disaster relief volunteers, elementary school teachers, inner city clinic nurses, school board members – the list goes on and on.

But lately, I am hearing more and more from our students at Fletcher a troubling question: if I am in violent disagreement with the policies and character of President Trump, can I effectively serve in his administration? Does it cross a moral threshold?

What I say to the students is essentially three things:

  1. First, the country is more important than any one person, even a president; and thus you should continue to think of ways to serve the country in the broadest sense, including within the Administration.
  2. Second, I would counsel against taking a job that in anyway requires you to work directly for the President. It saddens me to say it, but the closer you are to this President organizationally, the higher the risk you carry to your reputation and integrity.
  3. And third, if you collide with a policy over which you fundamentally disagree for moral or ethical reasons, you should of course resign.

These are troubling and challenging times, both globally and domestically. But America still matters deeply to each of us, and in so many ways to the world. Learn more about ways to serve our nation in my newest piece for TIME.

So to our students and alumni, I say, thank you for your service. And thank you for reading.

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