The political burlesque show running at the White House seems to consume the overwhelming majority of attention among cable news pundits and personalities. Such attention is not entirely unfounded given the potential for criminal indictments to hit members of Donald Trump’s family and inner circle. Any issue or scandal with potential to challenge the viability or very existence of the current presidency deserves intense scrutiny. But the rest of the world still exists and U.S. military involvement in an array of wars and conflicts also demands far more coverage than it receives. This has always been true, including under President Barack Obama, but under Trump, the stakes have been raised dramatically.
Trump has exhibited a disturbing pattern of reckless spontaneity, usually expressed publicly through his Twitter feed, when announcing what could rightly be construed as new U.S. policies. Indeed, when Trump’s senior adviser Sebastian Gorka was asked on Fox News what leverage Trump has left to pressure China to do more to contain potential threats from North Korea, Gorka shot back: “We have, you know, the president’s Twitter feed.”
Perhaps more disturbing than what Trump tweets publicly is what he is telling influential U.S. senators privately. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said recently that Trump told him he is willing to militarily obliterate the nation of North Korea if necessary. “There is a military option to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself,” Graham told NBC. Trump, he said, “told me that to my face.”
Trump is doing his best to inflame tensions with North Korea and China. Last weekend, the U.S. flew two B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula. It also conducted a ballistic missile test in the region. That followed a July 28 intercontinental ballistic missile test by North Korea. That missile reportedly has a longer range than any previously tested by Pyongyang and in theory, according to experts, could reach the United States. South Korea is now asking the Trump administration for its own new missiles with a capacity to strike deeper into the North. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its missile tests and nuclear program.
Trump punctuated the U.S. military posturing against North Korea with a public Twitter attack on China and his American predecessors. “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”
For its part, China appeared to laugh off Trump as a naïf. “Such a statement could only be made by a greenhorn U.S. president who knows little about the North Korean nuclear issue,” declared an editorial in one Chinese state-controlled newspaper. “Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile program and does not care about military threats from the U.S. and South Korea. How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?”
Tensions on the Korean peninsula are not new. And every U.S. administration seems to find itself in a similar conundrum with the regime. But Trump is erratic and tends to just spit out whatever he is thinking. And that could prove very dangerous with nuclear weapons and nuclear powers.
When North Korea is discussed in the U.S. media, coverage largely centers around how unstable and crazy Kim Jung-un is and the utterly repressive nature of his regime. How we got to a point of constant tension is largely ignored.