Yesterday I wrote that Trump’s threat to send “fire, fury, and power the likes of which the world has never seen before” raining down on Pyeongyang if Kim Jong-un threatened to attack the U.S. was reckless because it would put American credibility at stake.
There are only two things that can come of Trump’s threat to respond with “power the likes of which this world has never seen before”:
1.) Trump is bluffing, and he doesn’t start a nuclear war with North Korea. Many lives are initially saved, but America’s credibility is damaged, causing North Korea to push forward with its nuclear weapons program and raising the risk of war later.
2.) Trump does incite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.
It was just a few hours later that North Korea made a threat to strike Guam. As I wrote at the time, North Korea makes implausibly bellicose threats all the time, and it is wise not to always take them at face value. Yet Trump specifically mentioned “threats” in his statement (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States”), so for him to not follow through would mean North Korea once again found his words to be not credible.
Trump appears (wisely, it should be said) to have opted for choice #1 of the two choices, at least for now.
If and when the President does a real red line, however, will North Korea believe him? And if they don’t, would that mean war?
Maybe world leaders will realize that Trump is a buffoon and take their cues on America’s position from smarter men like Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Advisor McMaster (who is currently facing an attack from the alt-right).
To that end, Mattis put out a statement, in much more refined language, that threatened strong actions should North Korea go too far but also affirmed America’s strength and ability to deter: