President Donald Trump effectively ad-libbed his way into a test of wills with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and an unpredictable cycle of escalation — largely due to both men’s propensity for white-hot rhetoric and a desire to project strong leadership.
And the stakes keep rising.
One day after Trump fired off a blistering and improvised warning to rain “fire and fury” over the communist state if it kept up its own threats, North Korea issued an unusually specific and provocative warning, threatening to send four missiles toward Guam while ridiculing Trump for spouting “a load of nonsense.”
Now Trump has a dilemma, whether to hit back in kind or take some other escalatory step or risk seeing his personal credibility and global authority damaged by a defiant Kim.
Trump’s remarks were an example of his unorthodox approach to global leadership in action. He promised to be unpredictable and to prize force over nuance and to trash establishment doctrines — and he has been as good as his word. But this is not a type of crisis Trump has ever faced before.
“What’s he going to do about it? That’s the problem with ratcheting it up,” said Phil Mudd, a CNN national security expert, about Trump on “The Situation Room.” “The President ratchets it up and the North Koreans say, ‘OK, you have got a pair or twos, we have got three threes. We are going to put them on the table.'”
The sudden worsening of tensions is sure to set nerves on edge in North Asia and leaves the administration contemplating the first grave foreign policy crisis of Trump’s term.
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