SEOUL, South Korea – Donald Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea might have been written by Pyongyang’s propaganda mavens, so perfectly does it fit the North’s cherished claim that it is a victim of American aggression.
Not since George W. Bush labeled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” has the nation had such a strong piece of presidential evidence to back up its argument that only nuclear and missile development can counter “hostile” U.S. policies aimed at ending the rule of the latest member of the Kim family of dictators.
Trump now runs several risks by matching his rhetoric to that of the North, which has regularly vowed to reduce archrival Seoul to a “sea of fire.”
Word choice matters on the Korean Peninsula. A torrent of belligerent warnings by the North in 2013, for instance, including nuclear strike threats against specific U.S. targets, led to an anxious, weeks-long standoff that saw the United States fly its most powerful warplanes — nuclear capable B-2 and B-52 bombers, and F-22 stealth fighters — near the North Korean border.
The risk, now as then, is that heated words could cause a miscalculation that might trigger real fighting across the most heavily armed border on earth, a border that’s only a short drive from greater Seoul’s 25 million people.
Trump’s comments Tuesday were actually linked to Pyongyang’s never-ending stream of threats: “North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Though it seems unlikely it was directly responding to those comments, the North on Wednesday repeated past warnings that it’s examining operational plans for attacking the U.S. territory of Guam.