Speak­ing fiercely with a big stick

Trump and Kim Jong-un trade fiery threats in a re­mark­able ex­change

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

Pres­i­dent Trump matched Kim Jong-un hy­per­bole for hy­per­bole Tues­day, an­swer­ing the crazy fat kid boast for boast in a mu­tual pur­suit of nu­clear nouns, verbs and ad­jec­tives.

“Packs of wolves are com­ing in at­tack to stran­gle a na­tion,” the gov­ern­ment in Py­ongyang said. “They should be mind­ful that [North Korea’s] strate­gic steps ac­com­pa­nied by phys­i­cal ac­tion will be taken mer­ci­lessly with the mo­bi­liza­tion of all its na­tional strength.”

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” the pres­i­dent, in­ter­rupt­ing his work­ing va­ca­tion, told re­porters at his golf re­sort in New Jer­sey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Mr. Kim’s threat was taken by in­tel­li­gence and diplo­matic sources as the strong­est in­di­ca­tion yet that North Korea is likely to con­duct an­other nu­clear-weapon or mis­sile test, as it has done on pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions in re­sponse to United Na­tions sanc­tions like those im­posed this week.

The ex­change of nu­clear rhetoric fol­lowed the dis­clo­sure in The Wash­ing­ton Post, at­trib­uted to uniden­ti­fied sources, that the Kim regime has fi­nally per­fected a minia­tur­ized nu­clear weapon that can be fit­ted in­side a long-range mis­sile ca­pa­ble of strik­ing a tar­get in­side the United States.

Pres­i­dent Trump, like ev­ery­one else read­ing the news­pa­pers or watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to ra­dio and tele­vi­sion news, was both pleased and re­lieved that China and Rus­sia made the sanc­tions vote in the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil unan­i­mous. “Af­ter many years of fail­ure, coun­tries are com­ing to­gether to fi­nally ad­dress the dan­gers posed by North Korea,” he said in an in­evitable tweet. “We must be tough and de­ci­sive!” For once the ex­cla­ma­tion point seemed ap­pro­pri­ate, and Mr. Trump lim­ited him­self to one in­stead of the usual two or three.

It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any pres­i­dent not be­ing tempted to an­swer the Kim bar­rage of fan­ci­ful threats and hy­per­bolic warn­ings, but Mr. Trump’s fiery rhetoric may be with­out prece­dent. He’s say­ing just what most Amer­i­cans think they would like to say given the op­por­tu­nity.

He’s not speak­ing softly, as Theodore Roo­sevelt, a Repub­li­can pre­de­ces­sor in the White House, ad­vised in a sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance, but he has the big stick Mr. Roo­sevelt said must ac­com­pany pres­i­den­tial soft speech. He cred­ited the apho­rism to “a West African proverb,” but many his­to­ri­ans, un­able to find a source in Africa, think the 26th pres­i­dent coined it him­self. It sounds just like him.

Mr. Roo­sevelt fol­lowed up the apho­rism, whether his or not, with mil­i­tary mus­cle sev­eral times in two terms as pres­i­dent, en­forc­ing the Mon­roe Doc­trine in keep­ing for­eign in­ter­venors out of Latin Amer­ica, and in the dis­patch of “the Great White Fleet,” a flotilla of 16 bat­tle­ships, painted white for the oc­ca­sion, on a cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the globe to un­der­line and em­pha­size grow­ing Amer­i­can power.

Pres­i­dent Trump, send­ing a B-2 bomber with ac­com­pa­ny­ing South Korean es­corts to fly over the Korean penin­sula in a sim­i­lar re­minder of Amer­ica’s fully de­vel­oped nu­clear ar­se­nal, em­ploys a strat­egy of speak­ing fiercely while car­ry­ing a big stick. Mr. Kim’s gen­er­als, who know very well what’s good for them if they aren’t suf­fi­ciently syco­phan­tic, nev­er­the­less know that the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary could squash them like a bug.

Mr. Trump clearly won Tues­day’s brag­ging match, warn­ing Kim Jong-un of what can hap­pen to a dic­ta­tor who gets too big for his breeches. Re­searchers at his for­eign min­istry might re­mind him of an­other in­struc­tive Amer­i­can apho­rism, this one from base­ball leg­end Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t brag­gin’ if you can ac­tu­ally do it.”

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