How did we get here? Why does it appear that we’re on the brink of a war in Asia, one that could involve nuclear weapons? North Korea has had nuclear-weapons capacity for at least 10 years. Have its recent advances been so dramatic and significant to force the United States to wage a preventive war? No. The crisis we now find ourselves in has been exaggerated and mishandled by the Trump administration to a degree that is deeply worrying and dangerous.
From the start, the White House has wanted to look tough on North Korea. In the early months of President Trump’s administration, before there could possibly have been a serious policy review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over. Last week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that North Korea’s potential to hit the United States with nuclear weapons was an “intolerable” threat. Not North Korea’s use of weapons, mind you; just the potential.
Trump, of course, went furthest, saying Tuesday that if North Korea did not cease its threats, it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” When pressed on Thursday, Trump doubled down, saying, “If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.” In other words, Trump has made clear that the United States would respond to North Korean threats with a massive military strike, possibly involving nuclear weapons.
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