Moreover, Trump keeps telegraphing a desire to start a war with North Korea. Having first drawn blood with his missile-strike on Syria, and been pleased with the reaction from the public and press, Trump seems to want more. Although the official U.S. position, as outlined by other officials, is that all options are on the table, the president keeps suggesting that really only one is on the table. Why else would he so publicly slam the door shut on Tillerson’s open channel to Pyongyang? What else might he mean when he promised that the U.S. will “do what has to be done”?
There are other indications, too. In August, after a North Korean missile test, he said, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement, and as I said they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” (Aides said the language was improvised, and could not explain what he meant by it.)
In mid-September, at the United Nations General Assembly, Trump said that if Pyongyang’s aggression continued, the U.S. “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” also saying, “The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”
Last week, a group of top military brass visited the White House, and Trump made ominous comments to the press.
“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” he said. “Could be, the calm. The calm before the storm. We have the world's great military people in this room, I will tell you that. And uh, we're gonna have a great evening.”
When asked for clarification, on two separate occasions, he replied, “You’ll find out.” Even Vox, which prides itself on explaining the news, threw up its hands in perplexity.
The president on Tuesday hosted Henry Kissinger, a notable proponent of dropping bombs on Asian countries, at the White House. The president is schedule to visit South Korea in November, and might visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea—a setting where he could easily escalate tensions with a remark, whether careless or planned.
Of course, Trump could be just talking trash, trying to do the geopolitical dozens with Kim Jong Un, but there’s no way for Kim, or diplomats from other foreign countries, or the American people to know the difference. (North Korea itself claimed Trump’s UN remarks constituted a declaration of war, though the regime has a long history of similar comments.) The impression of a slouch toward war is sharpened by other evidence. Mattis, for example, on Monday told Army generals to be ready to fight a war in Korea. Some of that is standard readiness, but given his own bleak view of a military solution—Mattis said earlier this year that a war against North Korea would be “catastrophic” and “probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes”—it could also be an indication of growing probability of a shooting war.