Earlier this week the Washington Post reported that the Hermit Kingdom has achieved, in the assessment of at least one U.S. intelligence agency as well as the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the ability to install a miniaturized nuclear warhead within its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The development prompted President Donald Trump to threaten “fire and fury” if the Kim regime refused to end its aggression. Though White House aides cautioned that Trump had spoken extemporaneously, he later doubled down, saying his threat wasn’t “tough enough.”
The President is continuing to come to grips with the realization that this foreign policy quagmire is “not so easy,” as he famously described a preliminary reversal of opinion on the matter to the Wall Street Journal in April, after his first ever meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Ignorant of the long history of the problem, Trump at least brings fresh eyes to it,” wrote The Atlantic’s Mark Bowden, taking the optimist’s point of view, if only momentarily, in an excellent feature that surveys the host of unsavory options at Washington’s disposal in dealing with the looming crisis. As the piece pessimistically concludes, “There are no good options for dealing with North Korea.”
America has long forestalled conflict with its reckless adversary, preferring economic sanctions, spy operations, and cyber sabotage to direct military intervention. Despite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assertion earlier this year that the United States’ policy of “strategic patience is over,” the present administration’s course has yet to look much different. Unless entering an era of a rhetorical game of chicken counts.