When President Trump made his comments threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” this Tuesday, the moment was “entirely improvised,” according to an alarming report from The New York Times.
Citing sources with direct knowledge of this incident, the Times says that there had been no prearranged response to North Korea’s actions, nor did Trump discuss beforehand what the best response would be with any of his military advisors. Trump made his comments during a conference intended to address the nation’s opioid crisis.
Trump’s comments took the confrontation with NK to a “new, alarming level” and were immediately met with an escalation from Pyongyang, where they claimed to be considering the island of Guam as a target for their missiles.
Trump’s team sought to calm the situation, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that Americans should “sleep at night” without worrying of impending war. But according to the Times, “the president’s ad-libbed threat reflected an evolving and still unsettled approach to one of the most dangerous hot spots in the world as Mr. Trump and his team debate diplomatic, economic and military options.”
The president’s aides are divided on North Korea, as on other issues, with national security veterans like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, on one side and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and his allies on the other.
While General McMaster and others consider North Korea a pre-eminent threat that requires a tough response, Mr. Bannon and others in the nationalist wing argue that it is really just a subset of the administration’s conflict with China and that Mr. Trump should not give more prominence to an unstable rogue operator like Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader.
According to the Times’ report, Trump was in a “bellicose mood” after being told of recent intelligence that revealed NK had acquired the ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit on top of ballistic missiles. Trump was informed of the news because his team figured he’d be questioned on the subject by reporters, but he gave no indication of his response or of the language he’d choose.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told reporters in the now infamous remarks. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
After making the statements, Trump continued with the opioid conference as his national security team scrambled to come up with a followup to his threat.
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