How much longer can this war of words between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un continue? The escalation shows no sign of stopping as the two government trade blood-curdling threats.
Yesterday, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, told the UN General Assembly that Trump’s harsh words make “our rocket’s visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more.’’
On Tuesday, Trump had used the same forum to mock Kim as “Rocket Man” and warn that the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if attacked.
The mudslinging continued in the same vein in Ri’s speech. He taunted Trump as “President Evil” and called him a “mentally deranged person full of megalomania … who has turned the White House into a noisy marketplace full of crackling sounds.”
I’m sure something is lost in translation, but the intent is clear.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military flew closer to North Korean air space with B-1 bombers than at any other time this century.
Dana White, chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement Saturday that U.S. B-1 bomber and F-15 fighter jets launched from airfields in the region and flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.
“This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat,” White said. “North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community.”
The Pentagon issued several photos of the sleek fighter and bomber jets streaking across the darkened sky toward the Korean Peninsula.
Ri proudly announced that North Korea was near completion of its nuclear force.
In his speech, which had been prepared in advance, Ri did not mention the flights, but he condemned tightened U.N. sanctions as “heinous and barbaric” and said they would not deter his country from developing nuclear weapons.
“We are finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force,” Ri said.
Earlier in the week, Ri told reporters that North Korea could next conduct an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific — which would be a major escalation. All six of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have been underground. No nation has conducted an atmospheric nuclear test since China in 1980.
Although the hyperbolic volley of insults between the U.S. and North Korea leaders has been at times comical — the stilted North Korean rhetoric is easy to ridicule — the exchange is setting nerves on edge.
Kim Jong Un this week personally took to North Korean television to deliver a denunciation of Trump, whom he called a “dotard.” Trump tweeted a fresh attack against Kim on Friday night, calling him a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”
Both Trump and Kim are making it impossible for the other to back down. No self-respecting nation will talk peace while their leader is being called “madman” or “dotard.” It would seem, then, that a military clash of some kind is truly “inevitable” and that, once begun, it has the potential to lead to a very destructive war.
The big question is whether North Korea really possess the ability to nuke the U.S. Their long-range missiles might be able to reach the extreme west coast of the U.S. More likely, Kim would target Guam or Hawaii in a strike.
But for all his bluster about the North Korean nuclear program nearing completion, we still have no evidence that the Kim regime has been able to marry a nuclear warhead to a long-range ICBM. Military planners don’t have the luxury of guessing whether the North has been able to accomplish this technological feat, which means we must assume that they have.
Trump is deliberately baiting Kim, perhaps hoping he gets so riled up that he fires the first shot. The problem is that, despite all expectations and analysis, that first shot may be a nuclear one aimed at the U.S.