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We’re in the midst of the most alarming escalation of rhetoric between the White House and Pyongyang since President Trump took office. Trump startled observers at home and abroad on Tuesday with his warning to North Korea that further provocations would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
It was rhetoric that seemed more in line with the sort of bombast regularly issued by the North Korean regime’s own state mouthpiece. That outlet swiftly decried the “nuclear war hysteria of the U.S. authorities including Trump,” saying that regional tensions have “reached an extremely reckless and rash phase for an actual war.” For good measure, the North Koreans made noises about targeting Guam, a U.S. sovereign territory in the South Pacific, with “enveloping fire.”
On Wednesday, Trump and other administration officials renewed their own tough talk. White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said the situation was “analogous to the Cuban missile crisis” and trumpeted the supremacy of the American “hyperpower.” A leading evangelical adviser to the president even declared that “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,” North Korea’s dictator.
…Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2017
There are two different yet equally justifiable reactions you could have to this fit of rhetorical brinkmanship. One, understandably, is profound concern. It emerged that Trump’s “fire and fury” statement was an off-the-cuff comment that took many of his advisers by surprise. Impetuous improvisation is a risky tack while navigating a showdown that Trump’s own advisers say is…