The United Nations resolution against North Korea was a positive development. But the Trump administration’s erratic response to the rogue nation highlights how desperately it needs a comprehensive strategy for Asia.
THERE is one thing scarier than North Korea’s nuclear missiles: President Donald Trump threatening to start a devastating war.
Tuesday during a press gathering at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump told reporters that continued threats from North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
This is not speaking softly and carrying a big stick. It’s the United States commander in chief responding in kind to the bombast of a deranged dictatorship smaller than the state of Mississippi.
Threats should be the last resort for an administration that won its first major diplomatic victory Saturday, when the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution sanctioning North Korea.
It was one step forward, three steps back. Trump couldn’t wait for ink to dry on sanctions before escalating tensions with his threats.
This is no way for the U.S. to restore leadership in the Asia-Pacific region, where Trump’s myopia and incompetence is ceding authority to China.
The situation highlights how desperately Trump needs a cohesive, long-term strategy for Asia, so the U.S. can respond deliberately instead of erratically and impulsively.
Saturday’s diplomatic progress was encouraging. The U.S. introduced the sanctions resolution, which received support from China and Russia, despite tension over China’s aggressive territorial moves, and Russia’s election meddling.
Such unity reflects the grave risk North Korea poses to Asia and regional stability. It also reflects well on Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Yet, even before the “fire and fury” comment, Trump overshadowed Haley’s diplomacy.
First, Trump validated an anonymously sourced Fox News story, reporting that North Korea was loading cruise missiles onto patrol boats, by tweeting the story. Haley criticized the leak of classified spy information to no avail.
Remember, this is the president who routinely attacks the free press.
Apparently, leaked stories are acceptable if they build support for a hawkish response to North Korea. This, by a man who received five draft deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam.
Talk of attacking North Korea is scary. The U.S. military has long had contingency plans that could include the first use of tactical nuclear weapons.
Such action, however, would be cataclysmic. Millions may die in counterattacks, and the precedent of nuclear-assault weapons could lead to disaster.
There are better ways to lead and project power.
A war won’t obscure the fact that the administration’s inconsistency, hypocrisy and clownish lack of discipline undermines U.S. strength and stature in Asia. It projects weakness to adversaries and lack of commitment to allies.
Meanwhile, whether sanctions will rein in North Korea’s weapons program remain to be seen. The potential of the rogue state’s missiles reaching the Northwest and the rest of this country is a growing concern.
Yet it will take patience to see whether China and Russia enforce sanctions and whether they have an effect, and further diplomacy if they fail.
David Bachman, Henry M. Jackson professor of international studies at the University of Washington, believes sanctions won’t work “so the problem becomes one of trying to control the situation from getting any worse.”
“I think this is such an overriding commitment of the North Koreans that no amount of pressure is going to get them to back off,” he said.
In that case, the U.S. must work toward a system to ensure North Korea doesn’t expand its weapons program. A military response would be catastrophic and is not a reasonable option.
This should all be guided by a broader strategy for Asia, beyond threatening tweets, that puts North Korea in context of the greater challenges posed by China and Russia.