President Trump went off-script once again this past Tuesday when he warned North Korea to stop threatening the United States. The warning itself was reasonable and probably necessary, but the language he used was not. He may have taken us one step closer to Armageddon when he said: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
It was an unusual statement with dangerous implications. In typical Trump fashion he shot from the hip without giving his national security team an opportunity to vet his remarks.
Last month, after North Korea fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions against it– sanctions which could possibly slash the nation’s annual export revenue by as much as a third. Economic sanctions are usually employed to punish a country for breaking international rules, but sometimes they are used to create rifts between the people and their government, ultimately leading the population to demand new leadership. And the administration has made no secret about the fact that it would like to see Kim removed from office.
North Korea, perhaps seeing this as America’s endgame, threatened to launch a nuclear missile at the U.S. if any attempt is made to oust Kim Jong Un from power.
In typical “cover-for-the-president” fashion, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that while chief of staff General John Kelly and others did not know exactly what Trump was going to say, they “were clear the president was going to respond to North Korea’s threats following the sanctions with a strong message in no uncertain terms.”
Sander’s comments are interesting given the fact that the president’s threats were delivered at a briefing on Americans’ use of opiods.
But engaging in rhetorical shouting matches with North Korea may be ill-advised. As a matter of fact, two unnamed U.S. officials told reporters that Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” was not helpful and could cause an undesirable response from Kim, who is every bit as unpredictable as Trump.
For some, though, Kim’s unpredictability is precisely the reason he should be separated from the country’s nuclear arsenal.
One problem for the administration, however, is that the United States has been issuing vague threats against North Korea for more than 15 years. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both threatened North Korea with war, and like Trump, they both drew lines in the sand that Kim’s regime was told not to cross. In every instance, though, North Korea has ignored U.S. threats, and because nothing was ever done, they may feel America lacks the resolve to take them on.
That belief could be disastrous for the rest of the world, and especially North Korea’s neighbor to the south. There is one thing about North Korean intentions that is perfectly clear: South Korea is in the Kim regime’s crosshairs.
The two Koreas have been at war for 64 years– since the Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. The U.S. has been protecting South Korea since that time and it’s no secret that North Korea wants the South back. If America withdrew its protection today, North Korea would almost certainly attack the South tomorrow. With the ability to fire nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States, the North could conceivably attack South Korea and use the threat of launching ICBMs to prevent a U.S. counter-attack.
When that day happens, the U.S. will be faced with either responding to the attack on the South and risking real Armageddon, or surrendering the South to the North. A failure by the U.S. to respond militarily would probably prevent an immediate war, but it would also likely embolden North Korea to turn its proverbial inch into a mile.
Everyone, including the Kim regime, knows that the use of nuclear weapons could bring an end to civilization as we know it, but North Korea says it is willing to start that fight. Kim does not believe the U.S. is ready, on the other hand, to fight that fight.
North Korea’s military immediately challenged Trump’s warning of “fire and fury,” calling it a “load of nonsense.” The regime says it is ready to teach the United States a “severe lesson.”
The U.S. can choose to rely on the notion that no nuclear power would risk using it because of the potential devastation that would follow. It’s entirely possible that North Korea is just talking, but rational thoughts are not generally held by irrational people. The North Korean state-run news agency KCNA issued a statement saying that “only absolute force” can work on someone as “bereft of reason” as Trump. There are many in the U.S. who hold the same view of Kim.
To make matters worse, KCNA says North Korea is working to complete a plan by mid-August to launch a nuclear attack on Guam. It’s almost inconceivable but General Mattis and the joint chiefs are eyeing the situation carefully. Guam is considered an unincorporated territory of the US. An attack on Guam would be an attack on the United States.
As uncomfortable as it may be, wait-and-see may be all we can do at this time.