Donald The Diplomat

In the past week we’ve seen the nation of North Korea and their Supreme Leader, Kim Jon-un, launch a long range missile capable of reaching targets as far away as Chicago (Hey! That’s where we live!) We’ve also learned that North Korea now has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that might fit on such missiles.

That last bit of disturbing information came from classified intelligence reports leaked by Fox News. Nikki Haley, U.N. Ambassador and Trump appointee, quickly condemned the Fox leaks as “incredibly dangerous.” But just as incredibly, a short while before her condemnation of Fox, those dangerous leaks were verified as fact via tweets from guess who? – Our oblivious President, Donald Trump. What a guy.

Now, you might think that a rogue nation openly demonstrating missiles that can reach our shores is a situation serious enough to call for some intense White House discussions about how to respond. You would expect President Trump and key cabinet members – certainly including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – to put their heads together to craft the smartest possible position.  Instead President Trump, taking a break from a “working vacation” at his New Jersey golf resort, basically presented the United States’ stance on this international menace in one of his responses to a group of reporters. He said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Since we possess a huge nuclear arsenal and since we are the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons to destroy an enemy’s cities it’s easy to hear the implication of  his “fire and fury” statement as including nukes.

Shortly after the President’s comments, Secretary Tillerson returning to Washington made a statement stressing that the US did not believe that the threat from North Korea had become worse. This did have a calming effect. But soon after that, President Trump made sure he bragged about our nation’s nuclear capabilities. “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

After all of this back and forth stuff, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that both “the tone and strength of the message” of the President “were discussed beforehand.” Really Sarah? That’s hard to believe. (Shockingly, Sarah has been known to stretch the truth or even use “alternate facts.”) I find it difficult to imagine the Secretary of State and Trump’s new Chief of Staff advising the President, “Why don’t you imply a threat to North Korea of Dresden-style fire bombing raids? Or better yet, why not imply we’ll treat Pyongyang like Hiroshima! Yeah, that’s the ticket! That will get Kim Jon-un – a man who has had adversaries poisoned and ordered some of them executed with an anti-aircraft gun – to start being reasonable.

No, I think the bellicose b.s. coming from President Trump was strictly his own idea. But maybe “idea” is the wrong word. It was a manifestation of a standard response he has developed over many years to deal with any adversarial situation.

In the time since President Trump made his fiery remarks a number of political analysts concluded that he was simply saying these unheard-of-before-now presidential threats to “play to his base of support.” But it’s starting to feel like that “base of support” rationale has become the default explanation for Trump’s behavior, no matter how goofy it might be. It’s true that Trump’s behavior might appeal to his supporters. However, I’ve come to believe that we give him too much credit if we think everything he blurts out is the result of his shrewd Machiavellian thinking. To Trump, it’s all just his style.

Throughout his career he’s used threats and bombast successfully in his business dealings – contractors demanding full payment for services, communities objecting to his building plans, tenants unhappy with their treatment. Just threaten long drawn out legal battles and produce intimidating armies of lawyers. More often than not, it has worked. Talk tough and threaten big has become as natural to him as tying his golf shoes. If he feels challenged, he automatically responds with language that raises the stakes. There is little thought involved.

Donald Trump’s big talk got him the Presidency. But the intimidating style that worked for him right up to his election, doesn’t play the same on an international stage. — I would say threatening a nation with implied nuclear destruction is taking that style way too far.

Someone in Trump’s personal circle needs to get the President to at least tone down his impulsive braggadocio in the most sensitive circumstances. As we’re seeing right now, no matter how imbedded his behavior may be, the stakes are just too high to keep forgiving such recklessness.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973