Over the past 24 hours, U.S. analysts revealed that North Korea is (probably) capable of producing nuclear-tipped missiles; the American president implicitly threatened to drop a historically large nuclear weapon on Pyongyang if the DPRK so much as makes “any more threats” against the United States; and Kim Jong-un’s regime immediately countered with a threat to bomb the U.S. territory of Guam — where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was imminently scheduled to land.
Nervous jokes about nuclear holocausts ensued. Nerves were frayed all down the coast of California. Many of our allies in Yigo and Seoul probably did not get their best night’s sleep.
On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump sought to quiet the fears of an anxious world — by tweeting ludicrous lies about America’s nuclear arsenal.
Trump’s first official order as president was a toothless attack on the Affordable Care Act. Barack Obama ordered the (arguably ill-advised) modernization of our nuclear arsenal — and the Pentagon does not expect to complete the project for more than two decades.
Even if it weren’t comically mendacious, Trump’s statement would be bizarre. America already has well over 4,000 nuclear warheads. North Korea has trouble keeping their missiles from exploding on launch. There is no scenario in which the U.S. needs its nuclear arsenal to be “stronger and more powerful than ever before” in order to “win” a nuclear war with Pyongyang.
But the commander-in-chief likes bragging about how big his nukes are. And if you’ve got a problem with that — or with anything the president does — it is now, officially, unpatriotic to say so.
Or, so White House aide Sebastian Gorka told Fox News Wednesday morning.
“These are the moments when we have to come together as a nation and support the executive,” Gorka said on Fox & Friends. “Whether you voted for him or not, whether they’re a Democrat or whether they’re a Republican, these are trying times … During the Cuban missile crisis we stood behind JFK. This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.”
Tillerson, to his credit, contradicted this narrative. The secretary of State assured Americans that there was no new, major crisis with North Korea — and underscored the point by carrying on with his visit to Guam.
Meanwhile, some in the Trump administration say that containing North Korea is no longer an option. As The Wall Street Journal reports:
[A] senior Trump administration official said Tuesday that Washington shouldn’t assume it will be able to contain a North Korea with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles through traditional deterrence methods.
“We are not going to allow North Korea to hold American cities hostage,” the official said.
…“There are some who believe he seeks these weapons to maintain the status quo on the peninsula,” the official said. “But if you listen to what he himself has said at various times, it looks as if he has grand ambitions to change the status quo on the peninsula.”
What, precisely, the alternative to containment is, the official did not say.