In threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea during a brief question-and-answer at his New Jersey golf club Tuesday, President Trump again sounded more like the host of “Celebrity Apprentice” than he did the president of the United States. His threat drew an immediate fury of its own from Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and Vietnam War hero, who made it clear he thought Trump was wrong to lose his cool in response to reports that North Korea, under the mercurial leader Kim Jong Un, was closer than thought to developing a nuclear warhead.
And within 24 hours, Trump’s own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to back away from Trump’s statement, trying to reassure the country and the world that war was not an imminent threat. Indeed, military experts at the highest levels know that any kind of shooting war in that region would get millions of people killed, South and North Koreans, and Russians and Chinese. A nuclear action would be devastating to a huge area, and ultimately to the United States.
Once again, Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy and his recklessness with his limited diplomatic vocabulary were on uncomfortable display. This simply cannot continue if Trump is to stay in the White House, and more and more Republicans are uncomfortable with the president’s haphazard, self-centered approach to policy. Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, will have all eyes on him in the next few days and weeks, watching to see if he can bring the president under control. And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, himself a general, will need to stay close to Trump as well, though he, too, joined Trump in tough talking on North Korea.
There’s no question that the situation with Kim Jong Un is getting tense; but Russia and China have an interest in keeping Kim under some kind of control, and he has an interest in not roiling his relations with those allies. As always, perhaps, the world remains in a delicate and tricky balance of sometimes peculiar alliances. It is a world Donald Trump does not understand, but he has people around him who do. They must assert themselves more than they have up to now.