On Tuesday, President Trump took a more outspoken position against North Korea than any other American president has taken since the start of the struggle. In a statement given from vacation, President Trump warned North Korea to stop making threats against the United States.
"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," said the president, "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. [Kim Jong-Un] 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.”
Historians note that the president's words mirror those of President Harry S. Truman in 1945 when he announced the United States would drop a bomb on Hiroshima. At that time, Truman told the Japanese soldiers to surrender. If they did not, then “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
It's impossible for there to not be comparisons between the two comments. However, it's also important to the note the differences between the two situations. In the case of Japan, Truman threatened a country that didn't have the nuclear bomb. On the other hand, President Trump has a harder situation—a North Korea with nuclear warheads.
“It’s hard to think of a president using more extreme language during crisis like this before,” Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, told The New York Times. “Presidents usually try to use language that is even more moderate than what they may be feeling in private, because they’ve always been worried that their language might escalate a crisis.”
The situation begs the question: had the time for escalating language come? Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit in Washington, certainly think so.
“This is a more dangerous moment than faced by Trump’s predecessors,” said Dubowitz. “The normal nuanced diplomatic rhetoric coming out of Washington hasn’t worked in persuading the Kim regime of American resolve. This language underscores that the most powerful country in the world has its own escalatory and retaliatory options.”
U.S. Senators, however, aren't completely convinced. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, harshly denounced the president's statement.
“We should not be engaging in the same kind of blustery and provocative statements as North Korea about nuclear war," he said.
Likewise, Republican Senator John McCain, who's been positioning himself against his fellow Republicans in recent days, criticized the president. He gave his opinion on the situation during an interview with KTAR News Radio.
“All it’s going to do is bring us closer to some kind of serious confrontation,” he told the station.
The last time a president gave North Korea such a harsh warning, it was Bill Clinton in 1993. During a speech in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, then President Clinton warned Pyongyang that if they ever used nuclear weapons, “it would be the end of their country.”
Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official who currently holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, believes the president's comment—like President Clintons—is meant to deter North Korea.
“I take Trump’s statement in the same spirit." He added, it sounds more like “a message of deterrence, which is important now to avoid any miscalculation.”
After President Trump's warning, North Korea threatened to bomb Guam, which is the site of a U.S. military base in the Pacific. Read more about the threat and the chances it will happen.
Do you think President Trump's comments put us on a trajectory toward war with North Korea? Or has he simply given a long-overdue show of American power against the Communist country?