Members of Donald Trump’s administration have repeatedly signaled that they might be willing to use military force against North Korea—even if it inflicted on the Korean peninsula the worst human catastrophe in living memory—if it meant preventing Kim Jong Un from acquiring the capability to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon. But on Tuesday, the president himself did something different. He threatened to inflict the worst human catastrophe in living memory if North Korea were to so much as threaten the United States. Period.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told journalists assembled at his New Jersey golf club. “They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
The statement is stunning for a number of reasons. To begin with, Trump made it on the same day that reports emerged of a U.S. intelligence assessment suggesting that North Korea has produced a nuclear warhead small enough to be placed on a missile, and just days after North Korea tested its second intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. Taken together, these data points indicate that the North Korean government has already developed—or is quite close to developing—a nuclear weapon that can hit parts of the U.S. Back in January, on Twitter, Trump said of this precise scenario: “It won’t happen!” In other words, Trump promised to rain fire and fury on North Korea just as his previous promise on North Korea has begun to ring hollow.