Trump Has Been Making Threats His Whole Life – He Never Delivers

"Is this credible? No. The United States is not going to launch a preventive nuclear war in Asia."


By Fareed Zakaria for WaPo

How did we get here? Why does it appear that we’re on the brink of a war in Asia, one that could involve nuclear weapons? North Korea has had nuclear-weapons capacity for at least 10 years. Have its recent advances been so dramatic and significant to force the United States to wage a preventive war? No. The crisis we now find ourselves in has been exaggerated and mishandled by the Trump administration to a degree that is deeply worrying and dangerous.

From the start, the White House has wanted to look tough on North Korea. In the early months of President Trump’s administration, before there could possibly have been a serious policy review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over. Last week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that North Korea’s potential to hit the United States with nuclear weapons was an “intolerable” threat. Not North Korea’s use of weapons, mind you; just the potential.

Trump, of course, went furthest, saying Tuesday that if North Korea did not cease its threats, it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” When pressed on Thursday, Trump doubled down, saying, “If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.” In other words, Trump has made clear that the United States would respond to North Korean threats with a massive military strike, possibly involving nuclear weapons.

Is this credible? No. The United States is not going to launch a preventive nuclear war in Asia. Trump’s comments have undoubtedly rattled Washington’s closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. Empty threats and loose rhetoric only cheapen American prestige and power, boxing in the administration.

So why do it? Because it’s Trump’s basic mode of action. For his entire life, Trump has made grandiose promises and ominous threats — and rarely delivered on any. When he was in business, Reuters found, he frequently threatened to sue news organizations for libel, but the last time he followed through was 33 years ago, in 1984. Trump says that he never settles cases out of court. In fact, he has settled at least 100 times, according to USA Today.

In his political life, he has followed the same strategy of bluster. In 2011, he said that he had investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding” about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and that he would at some point “be revealing some interesting things.” He had nothing. During the campaign, he vowed that he would label China a currency manipulator, move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, make Mexico pay for a border wall and initiate an investigation into Hillary Clinton. So far, nada. After being elected, he signaled to China that he might recognize Taiwan. Within weeks of taking office, he folded. He implied that he had tapes of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Of course, he had none.

Even now, as he deals with a nuclear crisis, Trump has made claims that could be easily shown to be false. He tweeted that his first presidential order was to “modernize” the United States’ nuclear arsenal. In fact, he simply followed a congressional mandate to authorize a review of the arsenal, which hasn’t been completed yet. Does he think the North Koreans don’t know this?

When the United States watched as Stalin’s Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons, it was careful in its rhetoric. When it saw a far more threatening leader, Mao Zedong, pursuing nuclear weapons, it was even more cautious. Mao insisted that he had no fear of a nuclear war because China would still have more than enough survivors to defeat Western imperialists. And yet, successive U.S. administrations kept their cool.

The world is already living with a nuclear North Korea. If that reality cannot be reversed through negotiations and diplomacy, the task will be to develop a robust system of deterrence, the kind that kept the peace with Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. Bluster from the president can increase the dangers of miscalculation or cause a dangerous downward spiral of brinkmanship.

“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” Tillerson said on Wednesday. This was an unusual, perhaps even unprecedented statement. The secretary of state seems to have been telling Americans — and the world — to ignore the rhetoric, not of the North Korean dictator, but of his own boss, the president of the United States. It is probably what Trump’s associates have done for him all his life. They know that the guiding mantra for him has been not the art of the deal, but the art of the bluff.


5 comments on “Trump Has Been Making Threats His Whole Life – He Never Delivers

  1. Let’s examine Fareed’s proposition that Trump “rarely” delivers on any of his grandiose promises and ominous threats. Former Republican US Senator Gordon Humphrey has beens making the rounds in the last news cycle attesting to his observation that Trump needs to be removed from office via the 25th Amendment because he’s “insane,” “sick of mind,” “impaired by a seriously sick psyche,” and “delusional.”

    Right, so “rarely” versus “insane,” “sick of mind,” “impaired by a seriously sick psyche,” and “delusional.” Perhaps, Fareed needs to reassess in light of Cheney’s one percent doctrine.

    • Zakaria seems to be arguing for universal nuclear capability. After all, the US didn’t stop the Soviets 60 years ago..and China developed their capacity while we passively looked on! The US didn’t “stop” those countries because geopolitically they couldn’t be stopped.
      The Soviets were fully capable of overrunning Western Europe with conventional forces and the Chinese were well insulated geographically and were not making clear threats against the United States.
      North Korea is now moving close to the 3rd stage of Nuclear capability. They’ve developed a bomb and seem to have miniaturized it to missile capability. They have long range missiles and may or may not have yet mastered reentry and precise targeting. Every test gives North Korean scientists more information and gets them closer to the next level of threat. A capable Nuclear arsenal.
      What does a country with few exportable resources or goods do to make money in a rough world? They sell what they have..the makings for any countries Nuclear arsenal.
      One doesn’t have to endorse Trump’s approach to understand we are some very small steps away from a North Korea that has no imperative to negotiate. Zakaria, of course, fails to mention all the sanctions that haven’t worked…and all the reasonableness that has amounted to nothing more than a time buying exercise for the fruition of this looming threat.

      • well at some point, we’re going to have to accept the fact that people are going to develop nukes. I mean you can’t juke nuke everyone who makes their own nukes. it sounds reasonable on the surface to say: “ok, you can’t have these if we think you’re crazy,” but then what happens if they build them anyway? it’s like telling your neighbor that only you can have an AK47 because only you can be trusted with one. what happens if just goes out and buys one anyway? do you kill him?

  2. Curt A Tyner

    Lets see Pakistan, India, Israel, United Kingdom, Russia, China, N.Korea, USA and France am I missing anyone? That’s the line-up all 9 have a neighbor, ally or adversary they want to partner with or deter. N Korea has been in this game for 10 years and all of the sudden they want to commit suicide? Greg, get a grip my friend.

    This is “big boy” political gamesmanship and “little boy trump” is out of his league. Fareed is spot on pointing out all the bluster trump through the years has blown right out of his ass. At least Tillerson has more experience and some common sense, I hope. China will eventually reign in “little boy kim” they have way more sway that we ever will. Notice how quiet the Chinese are about this?

  3. Anonymous

    Mr. Humphrey resigned from the Republican Party the day trump was “elected” because he was adamantly opposed to trump becoming the president. He felt that way before this N Korea mess. Me too. Trump absolutely is not qualified to be the president for a great list of reasons that Marty can write!

    We all know he is a liar and cannot be trusted under any circumstances in any matter, ever. He has filled the WH with incredibly inept people to undo all the decades of research and implantation of guidelines and rules/laws to clean up our planet and protect it from future destruction; to protect our children and their children; to protect our food sources from poisons; to protect our oceans and lakes and rivers from the poisons dumped from careless and callous manufacturing processes. All this he has done to enable his rich friends and big businesses to bypass the restrictions that protect us because it costs them money they are not willing to spend – greedy bastards! Trump laughs at science because he is too ignorant to understand or even trust the scientist. He has no interest in any method that is to protect our World beyond his own lifetime. Not even for his own children and grandchildren and those generations to come. I know it is hard to believe but it is absolutely true. Because he is 100% self-centered and has no value for anyone, a complete narcissist, a true mental midget.

    Surely you have all seen the video of him stating how happy he is that Putin threw 755 Americans out of their offices in Russia – trump citing his nonsense of “good, it will save us payroll for those ex-employees…” I have heard it so many times it makes me vomit. The idiot thinks he is funny and that is some sort of ‘joke’ and he is making fun of Russia, pretending their game plan does us no harm, “in fact we appreciate their help”. yeah, haha trump. Again, you are a total failure and embarrassment to America. As many times as I have heard you ‘make a little joke’ you have failed miserably. You just are not funny.

    I have also heard many people make comments about your stupid joke(?) — that it is actually more evidence you continue to collude with Putin. That could be true – God knows you love him and certainly don’t cross him – maybe because he has those notorious Pee Tapes I read about in the Steele Dossier. Maybe you owe him a few billion dollars for secret loans you don’t want us to know about. He could just yank that thread and you are bankrupt – again. But this time, personal bankruptcy. And then end up in prison for treason. My Lord, sounds just awful, no wonder he lies like his life depends on it. It really does!

    Congress needs to move on HR1987, Presidential Capacity Act; Presidential Impeachment; the 25th Amendment — just pick your poison and get ‘er done.

    – Murphy

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