Trump: North Korea “Will Be Met With Fire And Fury The Likes Of Which This World Has Never Seen Before” (Does The President Think He Has Dragons?)
Trump’s rash comments came after a report in the Washington Post that U.S. intelligence confirmed North Korea has successfully produced a nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, and might soon have to be considered a full-fledged nuclear power.
The President also possibly responding to North Korea saying it will wreak “1,000-fold” revenge on the U.S. for pushing through new, potentially severe UN sanctions.
You can catch the clip of the President here:
Early this morning, North Korea responded: the state-run KCNA news agency saying leaders are “examining” a plan to launch a missile at the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, home to Navy and Air Force installations. North Korea described Guam as the “beachhead” for a potential U.S. invasion. Also, not to be outdone on rhetoric, the North promised to “create an enveloping fire” around the island.
As we’ve said before, we claim no special insight into these events, except we spent several years working in the region and we’ve been to North Korea. So a few thoughts:
• Trump’s comments come across almost as a challenge to fire a missile, so we won’t be surprised at all if North Korea does just that.
• In some sense tough talk is all Trump can deliver right now or risk losing the support of his newfound friends who gave him his much Tweeted-about “15-0” win at the UN. (Even his “tough guy lingo”: “North Korea had best not make any threats…” was interesting to us because that’s almost sure to be lost in translation. So as usual, Trump isn’t forgetting to play to his base.)
• These are perilous, but also heady times for North Korean leadership: new sanctions haven’t kicked in yet, and at no time since the Korean War has North Korea found itself in such a prominent position on the world stage.
• Extreme rhetoric is not what’s making headlines in South Korea today. Instead, “urgent” action by that country’s President to complete overhaul his country’s military. That would require major changes to a Korea-US missile agreement, which limits the payload and range of South Korean missiles. They now want “bunker busters.”
• And Vox reminds us the situation is made more perilous by the fact that Trump has not yet appointed a US Ambassador to South Korea. Nor an Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. Nor an Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security at the Defense Department. This is not because of “obstruction” by Senators delaying confirmation of Trump’s nominees. It’s because Trump hasn’t nominated anybody.
So What Could Start A War?
• North Korea could launch a missile at something. Up until now, it’s launched missiles up into the air, for show, and then landed them in the sea. It could go after a military target, like an air base in Guam, (which still might not be enough to trigger a war,) or civilian population centers in South Korea or Japan (much more likely,) or a target on the U.S. mainland (that would almost definitely do it.)
• Trump could launch some kind of preemptive strike aimed at “taking out” North Korea’s nuclear facilities or its leader, Kim Jong-un, or both. Even if precise and successful, this would almost certainly lead to instant retaliatory attacks by the North on nearby South Korea and possibly Japan, resulting in huge civilian casualties. But if you listen to Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump doesn’t really care about that, as long as he heads off an attack on the US mainland. He says Trump told him–to his face–that “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here.” (The White House does not confirm or deny Trump said that.) South Korea, Japan, China, most of the rest of the civilized world would not likely share that same inclination.
Is There Anything Positive Happening?
• At a meeting of regional foreign ministers in the Philippines earlier this week, the North Korean representative was unusually talky. He sat down with his counterparts from China, and Russia, and also even had a brief chat with South Korea’s Foreign Minister. Although he and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conspicuously avoided each other, neither boycotted the meeting in protest of the other’s presence.
• The US may have softened conditions under which it will enter talks with the North. Tillerson now saying they only need to stop firing missiles constantly all over the place. Tillerson also made a point of saying the U.S. does not seek regime change in North Korea.
• The significance of the UN Resolution should not be underestimated. If it holds: that is, if China holds firm, it could eventually create a siege-like atmosphere and put more pressure on North Korean leadership than they’ve felt in decades.
Are There Any Possible Peaceful Solutions?
Yes again. Although it might be a hard sell for Trump, and frankly others who might not see a nuclear North Korea as an acceptable outcome.
• That’s because it might end up looking a lot like the deal the Obama Administration did with Iran. (The one Trump calls “the worst deal ever.”) Economic support in exchange for verifiable promises to significantly slow down their nuclear program.
• As we’ve mentioned before, North Korea will not give up its nukes. No way, no how. It’s all they’ve got. And it’s not just their only bargaining chip: it’s a source of national pride that helps hold the regime together. Without nuclear weapons, nobody cares about them, their anemic economy just rots, and their people suffer in oblivion. (Which might be enough to spur regime change).
• Kim Jong-un is very much like Trump in that the most important thing is for him to come away with a “win”. Anything that requires him to give up his nuclear program makes him look like a loser. But allowing him to keep a scaled-back version, under close monitoring, while still not ideal, would give him the ability to tell his base that Western powers “gave in”. (Of course he’d put it in grander terms.)
What Ever Happened To “Walk Softly But Carry A Big Stick”?
That’s the question asked by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain. And we find ourselves agreeing with him more and more these days (especially when he agrees with Teddy Roosevelt).
McCain told an Arizona radio interviewer: “If we meet with fire and fury, they still can launch those rockets from across the DMZ and strike Seoul, and I’m telling you that the catastrophe of that would be incalculable.”
Seoul, the capital of South Korea is just 35 miles from the North Korean border, about the same distance as San Francisco to Palo Alto, or New York to Oyster Bay.
What’s Wrong With This Retweet?
No, it’s not as some in the media are suggesting, that Trump is touting a report citing anonymous sources, while frequently slamming anonymous sources as “fake”. Trump is inconsistent all-over-the-place, all the time, we all know that!
• Either he’s confirming it’s true, because the President would know, right? If so, does that mean he leaked classified intel? Subsequent comments (or “no comments”) by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley seems to confirm that.
• Or maybe he didn’t know. Meaning he’s so out of the loop that he’s relying on “Fox & Friends” for his intel, vs. say, his National Security Adviser, whom one would think would have better info.
Since Trump Seems So Ready To Go To War, Let’s Talk About His War Record
After Trump’s vicious Twitter attacks on Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, almost no one went after Trump on his own Vietnam record, or lack thereof. Granted, Trump did not make statements (as Blumenthal did) indicating he served in the war when he was only in the reserve. Still, Trump often refers to his “high draft lottery number” as the reason he ultimately did not serve, not his 5 deferments (and especially not the one for “bad feet”, considering Trump was a good high school athlete.)
Which leads us to wonder: why aren’t Dems making a big deal out of this? Other way around, it would’ve been wall-to-wall on Fox.
The Atlantic’s James Fallows picks up the mantle. He calls Trump “graceless” and a “chickenhawk.” And follows with an excellent analysis of not just the President, but many of his contemporaries, and the roles they played fighting in, or avoiding Vietnam. (Spoiler: Trump’s not likely to use the same line of attack on Robert Mueller.) Here’s Fallows’ piece summed up in a single graphic, but read the article anyway, it’s interesting:
Trump Decides Not To Go To War, For Now, On Opioids
The only reason we’re including this story is Trump’s “major announcement” on fighting the opioid epidemic was so heavily touted both by the White House and Fox News. Yet when it came, it amounted to no more than a few minutes of the President vamping, and then turning it over to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Trump suggested the best way to combat opioid abuse is having people not start using in the first place. How would he accomplish this? The President mused: “Maybe by talking to youth and telling them: ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.'”
Earlier this month, a panel appointed by Trump recommended he declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency (like a flood or a hurricane). Said panel Chairman Chris Christie “If that’s not a national health emergency, I don’t know what is.” Doing so would’ve freed up federal funds and expanded coverage for opioid treatment. It also would’ve increased collection of data. But Trump won’t be doing that for now.