When President Trump promised “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea threatens the United States again, it seemed likely that he was just hurling some improvised tough talk at a potential nuclear power because he thought it sounded good. He made the remarks during a meeting about opioid addiction, and the rest of his administration seemed totally caught off guard.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that there was indeed no broader strategy behind the remarks, Trump just wanted to show Kim Jong-un that he wasn’t shaken by reports that North Korea is capable of producing miniaturized nuclear warheads that fit inside their missiles:
But during a conference call [before the opioid meeting] that focused on North Korea, Mr. Trump did not offer a preview of what he planned to say — and aides did not press the president, who resists being told what to say, even on a tinderbox issue that has induced his predecessors to seek the safety of a script.
He told his aides only that he wanted to signal to Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, that he was not backing down — while turning up the pressure he has tried to place on China to tame its troublesome neighbor and on-and-off ally.
Instead, North Korea immediately violated Trump’s new red line by threatening to attack Guam, a U.S. territory. On Wednesday, a Korean People’s Army spokesman said they were “carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium- to long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the US major military bases on Guam.”
On Thursday, North Korea reiterated its threat against Guam but offered more detail, saying it would draw up plans to fire missiles into the sea surrounding Guam by “mid-August and report it to the commander-in-chief of the DPRK nuclear force [Kim Jong-un] and wait for his order.” Per the Times:
If the North were to follow through on its threat to launch an “enveloping strike” in the vicinity of Guam, it would be the first time that a North Korean missile landed so close to an American territory. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that, according to the plan, four of the country’s Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles would fly over the three southern Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi before hitting the ocean about 19 to 25 miles from the coast of Guam.
The statement from the North Korean military went on to attack Trump for having “let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury,’ failing to grasp the on-going grave situation. This is extremely getting on the nerves of the infuriated Hwasong artillerymen of the KPA [Korean People’s Army].” They added, “sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him.”
Trump has yet to respond with “fire and fury” (thankfully), so all he accomplished was showing the world that his words shouldn’t be taken seriously. But unlike the rest of the world, the president doesn’t seem all that worried. According to the Times, President Trump thinks he understands Kim better than his advisers do, and “seemed pleased with the uproar caused by his remarks.”