I don’t know why he keeps drawing red lines around threats, as he did the other day, instead of around provocative actions, as Mattis did. Kim’s going to cross Trump’s red line. He already crossed it by threatening Guam. Threats are North Korea’s main international export. The only skill the country has developed in the past 60 years, apart from nuclear weaponry, is bombastic bellicose propaganda. We’re not going to bomb the guy for threatening people.
But yeah, you know, this could work out okay:
This could be a sustainable relationship where Trump and North Korea just threaten each other daily in grand terms and never follow through https://t.co/NFumJoQtl8
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 11, 2017
I don’t think there’s any strategy in what Trump’s doing beyond “sound tough, project strength,” but maybe a global rank-out war in which he draws rhetorical lines in the sand and Kim duly crosses them will make everyone happy. For the NorKs, it’s a cheap way to show the locals they’re willing to defy the American Satan. For Trump, it’s a cheap way to contrast himself with Obama, a foreign-policy marshmallow whose weakness emboldened North Korea to keep going with nukes for eight long years. Ask Trump’s critics among the European diplomatic set, in fact, and they’ll tell you that Obama, not Kim or Putin or anyone else, is his true opponent in charting his path internationally:
“He has no historical view. He is only dealing with these issues now, and seems to think the world started when he took office,” a diplomat told BuzzFeed News, pointing to Trump’s remarks and tweets about defence spending. “He thinks that NATO existed only to keep the communists out of Europe. He has a similar attitude in Asia-Pacific with Japan, ignoring that the US basically wrote their constitution.” During his presidential campaign, Trump called out Japan to pay more for the security US provides, including for hosting the US troops in the country. Japan’s constitution restricts its military options.
They also believe Trump’s foreign policy is chiefly driven by an obsession with unravelling Barack Obama’s policies. “It’s his only real position,” one European diplomat said. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’ He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama.”
Would Obama threaten to put a hurt on North Korea if they so much as overtly threatened the U.S. or its territories? No? Well, then it must be the right thing to do. In fact, the most interesting part of this clip isn’t his response to Kim, it’s what he says at the beginning about how the media wouldn’t have freaked out about his “fire and fury” comments a few days ago if another president, by which he obviously means O, had said them. That’s true — certainly they wouldn’t have freaked to the extent that they did, and certainly ideological bias feeds that. But it’s also because Trump really is unpredictable and talked in unusually stark terms as a candidate about punishing America’s enemies (“bombing the sh*t” out of ISIS, waterboarding jihadis, etc) that the “fire and fury” stuff feels off-kilter and concerning coming from him. If Mattis had said the same thing, there would have been grumbling that that sort of rhetoric is “unhelpful” but everyone would have assumed it’s part of a deliberate strategy because everyone trusts Mattis’s intelligence and judgment. When Trump pops off, you don’t know if there’s a plan, if he’s just going full alpha-male, if he’s in a bad mood, if he doesn’t understand how bad a new Korean War could get, or what have you. The fear that he might do something rash militarily or that he’ll bait Kim into doing something rash militarily because he doesn’t know when the tough talk has gone too far is real. But yes, in the president’s defense, probably overstated.