Lack of Diplomacy in Korea Standoff


In his blistering debut speech at last week’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly, any effort by President Donald Trump to appear diplomatic disappeared when he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea over its possible use of atomic weapons. 

At the green marble podium at the United Nations, Trump threw aside all of the urgings by the foreign policy community — including his own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson — and tripled down on his threats to take decisive military action if the dictator Kim Jong Un attacks or threatens the United States or its major allies in the Pacific, especially Japan and South Korea.

Trump’s campaign-style reference to Kim as “Rocket Man” may go over well at his frequent rallies for the faithful, but addresses at the U.N. call for less swagger and more nuance if he truly wants to keep the peace.

Numerous commentators in the foreign policy establishment expressed alarm at the tone of Trump’s remarks.  

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Kim responded in kind, branding Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” When two impetuous alpha males trade insults like that — and have atomic weapons at their fingertips — the rest of the world has reason to be concerned. Luckily, others took steps to dampen the controversy.

The very day of the Trump speech, the government of Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China was curtailing substantial trade with North Korea, which could have devastating effects on its already shaky economy.  Trump also hosted a luncheon meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Does that mean that Trump’s fiery rhetoric about North Korea is all bluster with no consequences? Ideally, that will be the case. But as so often has happened in his young administration, Trump manages to find or create controversies wherever he goes.

Following quickly on the heels of his U.N. appearance, the president made headlines with a rambling speech in Alabama, inserting himself into that state’s Senate race; chastised protesting pro football players as SOBs who should be fired; and trashed senators who dared oppose yet another draconian attempt to replace Obamacare with a plan that is far less comprehensive and far less popular with voters.

With serious issues at hand like health care, tax reform and recovery from three devastating hurricanes, and the earthquake in Mexico, the president would do well to curb his instincts for slash-and-burn rhetoric and deliver the kinds of messages that move the country toward solutions rather than distract everyone with trivial sideshows.