foreign policy

Trump Continues to Tease a War With North Korea

The will he/won’t he president. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

In tweets sent Saturday afternoon, President Trump once again issued a veiled threat to North Korea, claiming that previous presidents’ diplomatic efforts with the country had failed and that “only one thing will work!” The comment came less than two days after Trump suggested a photo op with his military advisors was “the calm before the storm” — then refused to explain what the storm might be. “You’ll find out,” Trump told reporters instead, repeating the tease again on Friday, accompanied with a literal wink. Afterward, no one at the White House, on or off the record, would or could explain what Trump was talking about either. On Saturday, the war-teasing continued:

Later Saturday, while taking some questions from reporters, Trump was asked once again to clarify his “storm” allusion, and responded that he had “nothing to clarify.” Asked what the “one thing” he tweeted about was, Trump just replied, “well you’ll figure that out pretty soon,” and smiled.

Last Sunday, Trump made some similarly cryptic and seemingly boastful remarks, tweeting that he had told his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, that the secretary’s attempts to communicate directly and negotiate with Pyongyang were a “waste of time,” and that “we’ll do what has to be done” instead. “I won’t fail,” Trump later claimed, after insisting that previous presidents had.

State Department spokespeople eventually made the unconvincing suggestion that the president’s comments were strategic and part of a good cop/bad cop routine with North Korea. A few days later, Tillerson — presumably the good cop in that logically flawed scenario — then refused to deny that he had called Trump a “fucking moron” earlier in the year after the president compared coming up with a strategy for the war in Afghanistan “to the renovation of a high-end New York restaurant.”

So, after a week of Trump’s tenterhook-diplomacy regarding North Korea, there’s still no clarity as to what the president is actually talking about, just like there’s no clarity about why Trump has shifted from exchanging promises of annihilation with Kim Jong Un to teasing an epic season finale for the nuclear crisis. Trump has always been obsessed with keep-them-guessing tactics, but while doing that with a nuclear-armed rogue nation just makes most of us anxious, the risk of doing that with an antagonist like North Korea begs the question: What if the country sees these comments as empty threats and becomes bolder in its efforts, or worse, what if Pyongyang guesses wrong?

Trump Continues to Tease a War With North Korea