North Korea and Iran Are Footnotes in Trump’s National Security Speech

In a long national security speech, the president didn’t give much reason to fear that he’s about to authorize preemptive strikes toward his favorite rogue nations. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

In a high-profile speech placing his imprint on a new national security strategy document, Donald Trump spoke at length about his perceptions of threats to the United States. For those who have been fearing we might be in a hot war with North Korea or Iran — or both — before the New Year, the speech was indirectly reassuring. That’s because the president didn’t talk much about either country.

Yes, in a single sentence he accused his predecessors of having “neglected a nuclear menace in North Korea” and negotiated “an incomprehensibly bad” nuclear deal with Iran. He repeated his promise to “take care” of North Korea, but didn’t give any details on what that might entail, before going into a long disquisition on the U.S. economy and then ranting about immigration for a while.

Off and on, Trump discussed China and Russia as rivals and competitors, but didn’t mention either country’s policies toward Pyongyang or Tehran. He frequently mentioned cybersecurity threats and even talked about “economic and political aggression” (election interference, anybody?). But the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran that the president sometimes suggests would justify preemptive strikes was only alluded to indirectly via a pledge to develop a “multi-tiered missile defense system.” Yes, that’s an old fantasy of Republicans, but it doesn’t sound very Trumpian, does it?

Listening to the whole address, it was impossible to avoid the impression that Trump’s signature contribution to standard GOP foreign policy is a heavy, heavy emphasis on the economic aspects of national security — not just in terms of a belligerent trade posture, but by way of his assertion that “building up our wealth and power at home” is the most important thing we can do for national security, a claim more often heard from Democrats.

If the president is secretly planning preemptive strikes against North Korea or Iran, part of the secrecy apparently involves a dismissive attitude toward both threats in the context of more important and immediate challenges — you know, like “chain migration,” a practice he mentioned in the speech with a great deal more passion than the rogue nations he’s hinted in the past that he might want to wipe off the face of the Earth.

So you can probably relax a bit about any immediate prospects of a calamitous war with potentially catastrophic consequences for the people of North Korea and Iran and neighboring countries, or for the U.S. service members in harm’s way. It’s likely we’ll get through the season of peace on Earth without the world blowing up.

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