When asked by the Financial Times on April 2 about working with China to reduce the nuclear threat from North Korea, President Donald Trump replied: “Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” Quite how this would be done, the president declined to divulge.
In the weeks that followed, the hostile standoff in Northeast Asia heated up. As a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier sped towards the Korean peninsula, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un celebrated the “Day of the Sun” (the day before Easter Sunday) by standing on a platform for hours reviewing a parade of long-range missiles, scuds, and other hardware. The launch of a ballistic missile on that same morning, however, ended in failure, as the weapon blew up as soon as it took off.
The world is slowly adjusting to Trump's bluster. Often, he appears not to know what he is talking about. It may well be that a word in his ear from a U.S. admiral, or Chinese President Xi Jinping, or his son-in-law Jared Kushner, the real-estate heir put in charge of world affairs, could soften his bellicose tone. But words or tweets, however hasty or ill-conceived, coming from the White House, do matter. The last thing needed in the fraught situation in Northeast Asia, where military action could spiral into catastrophe, is more macho posturing. (Enough such bluster is already blowing in from Pyongyang: In a recent set of photographs, Kim Jong Un, dressed to resemble his grandfather Kim Il Sung, stands in front of nuclear warheads and threatens to unleash “pre-emptive nuclear strikes” against Japan or even the United States.)