Trump Takes on the Rocket Man

Intelligence

President Donald J. Trump at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly | September 18, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.” Few have summarized the world since September 11, 2001 as well as President Trump did with that line. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” Few have summarized the state of affairs in North Korea as well as President Trump did with that line.

Trump had evoked a 1970s Elton John via Twitter over the weekend. It’s one thing to do that in a tweet; it’s quite another do do it on the world stage, in front of the assembled leaders of literally the entire world. But it worked.

“Our government’s first duty is to its people”

On Tuesday, the president continued the tradition of his predecessors by addressing the United Nations General Assembly, but he did so as a man comfortable on his home turf. Much of the speech was the standard UN fare about working together for the greater good, but with a distinctly Trumpian subtext. He didn’t waste time reminding everyone that his “America First” motto still stands. “Our government’s first duty is to its people,” Trump said,” to our citizens, to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.”

He wasted little time in getting to the heart of the most pressing issue facing the world today: the threat of North Korean nuclear aggression. “No one,” the president said, “has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea.” After laying out a litany of North Korean offenses, he said “It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict.”

He wasn’t done.

“no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

While the threat of total destruction set off panic in the usual quarters, it is nothing different than Presidents Obama and Clinton had said at various frustrating points in their own dealings with the rogue Kim family. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.” The speech was bold, it was in-your-face, but it wasn’t a radical departure from the foreign policy of past Republican presidents.

Kim will continue to rattle his saber and fire the occasional missile harmlessly into the sea (even if those missiles do fly over Japanese territory). The U.S. government will continue to tell them to stop, and the president will continue to tweet his frustrations. But until the DPRK actually threatens something, talk is all it will be.

Kim Jong-un knows that his use of  nuclear weapon will be mean the literal end of his country, not just his regime. As delusional as we’d like to think he and his cronies are, they cannot be so delusional that they think they can withstand the full “fire and fury” of a U.S. nuclear retaliation — which is what would happen if they were to launch anything that even appeared to be a nuclear attack.

With each passing day without a nuclear exchange between the DPRK and USA, I am more convinced that all of the past few months have been nothing more than chest-puffing. Certainly, the U.S. cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, and might just follow through on the threat to shoot one of those test rockets down, even if it isn’t on a trajectory to land on anything it can hurt.

But everyone understands that all-out war isn’t the way we’ll prevent (or more accurately, undo) North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. That said, I for one welcome Trump’s tough, blunt language at the UN. It won’t hurt anything, and may just help.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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