How Donald Trump's North Korea Rhetoric Could Start a War

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Air Force One in Morristown, New Jersey

If the president does not recognize his errors soon, then the nation may have to pay a price.

In Friday’s Washington Post, Michael Hirsh wrote an opinion piece suggesting that there might be “a method to the apparent madness in President Trump’s approach” to the fiery and insulting tweetstorms he fires off at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. No. There is no “mad genius” at play here—and if the president does not recognize his error soon, then the price to the nation may be more than merely public embarrassment.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the president’s broad array of angry and insulting tweets are the result of a blinding arrogance. Evidence is piling up that Trump believes he is bulletproof and can do no wrong. He survived the entire Republican establishment and defeated sixteen major primary candidates; he survived the “Access Hollywood” affair, which would have destroyed almost any other candidate; and he won the general election, which many people thought would merely be a coronation for Hillary Clinton.

Now Trump believes there is nothing that can take him down, and what little restraints to his actions there might have been now seem to have evaporated. He is clearly unconcerned with whom he insults, what controversies he stirs up, and he apparently relishes pitting one group against another, holding to a sort of “divide and conquer” mentality. Unfortunately for the nation, however, such proclivities instead produce a “divide and self-defeat” outcome.

He publicly insults TV personalities when they say things about him that he interprets as negative. He engages in petty insults with mayors (even during emergency-relief operations), he participates in childish exchanges with members of the Senate, and he even spars with sports figures and commentators. None of these quarrels have anything to do with governing the country, solving serious problems, or building the nation’s strength.

The frightening reality is that President Trump is an undisciplined, thin-skinned man whose actions are driven—not by a coherent worldview or philosophy—but by his ever-changing currents of emotion and nonstop need for personal adulation. If he were merely the CEO of a major corporation, then his behavior would be regrettable and embarrassing. When he has the power to plunge the nation into war, however, his behavior rises to the level of a grave concern.

Trump’s incendiary rhetoric towards North Korea and his personal attacks against its leader makes what is already a very difficult task almost impossible to solve without a military confrontation. What Trump fails to acknowledge is that because of poor foreign-policy decisions by his predecessors, Kim may already have concluded that he can’t trust the United States to honor an agreement. In that case, only deft diplomacy gives the United States a chance to defuse the crisis without war. Trump’s ill-advised threats only increase the chances of having to fight a destructive, unnecessary war.

The North Korean dictator watched the United States invade and destroy the Taliban regime in 2001. He watched it invade and destroy Saddam in 2003, and then, after convincing Libya to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in 2003, he watched as the United States helped drive its leader from power in 2011.

Now, Kim sees Trump making insulting and menacing tweets against Iran, threatening to abrogate the deal Obama negotiated to limit their nuclear program. The president’s myopic, succeed-today-and-the-hell-with-tomorrow foreign policy is making it almost impossible to conduct effective diplomacy, which puts U.S. interests at increasing and unnecessary risk.

President Trump’s petulant outbursts are not a sign of a coherent strategy. Instead, they are evidence that the man believes he cannot fail, cannot be held accountable for any action, and that he views self-discipline as an unnecessary constraint. Such attitudes can destroy a man’s life. And if that man happens to be the president, then his self-destruction could carry the lives of millions down with him.

Several sources I’ve talked to with knowledge of internal White House deliberations say that there are advisors and officials in the administration who are giving the president good and sound advice on a wide range of subjects. I pray that Trump realizes, very soon, that his actions do not advance his own agenda nor help him accomplish the things he promised the American people.

If he does, then there is still a chance that over the coming three years the nation can be kept safe from war abroad and prosper domestically. Should he refuse to come to this realization on his own and take sound advice, however, then there is increasing likelihood that his rash words and poor decisions may inflict serious pain or damage on U.S. citizens. Should it come to that, I pray the cost imposed on the country all won’t be too severe.

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