Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the 1960s doctrine that so far has avoided nuclear Armageddon, works only if everyone in the room — bad guys and good guys — is an adult. It’s clear that now two of them aren’t, and after the nukes go off, any survivors will know clearly who to blame: President Donald Trump, 71.
When Trump made his first address to the United Nations last week, he gratuitously threatened North Korea with destruction and taunted its dictator, Kim Jong-un, 33, as “Rocket Man,” a term Trump first used in a juvenile Tweet.
In the speech, he subtly insulted the United Nations itself by presuming to instruct its sovereign nations in his new American way of statesmanship. The words and the pretentious manner of delivery proved once again that Ronald Reagan tying his shoe or Barack Obama straightening his necktie demonstrated more class than Trump can delivering a major address.
Yes, he’s the president we have for now, so we must learn to live with his affectations, lies and duplicitous ways. But neither Americans — nor anyone else — should have to die by them simply because he cannot control his mind and his mouth.
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The more Kim and Trump escalate their personal attacks, the more likely deaths become because neither is controllable by the people closest to him and both egos absolutely bar backing down or giving up the last word. When all the words are used, then what?
If Kim chooses, as he threatens, to set off a nuclear weapon at sea or in the atmosphere, it will be an attack on all of humanity and the planet’s environment. Millions could be killed outright or doomed to slow death. That would be the responsibility of Trump and the people who support him, because he could have chosen another way.
In non-nuclear matters, it’s one thing for his enablers to roll their eyes and say, “Well, that’s Trump being Trump. He’ll never change.” But nuclear matters are very different; “Trump being Trump” endangers civilization.
The U.N. speech, touted by the White House as clarification of Trump’s world view, actually demonstrated that he has no cohesive view beyond the catch-all “America First,” whatever that might mean to him at a given moment.
Speaking as America’s representative in an organization founded through American leadership, headquartered in America and dedicated to peace, he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. Then: “Hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is for; let’s see how they do.”
He also hinted at walking away from the nuclear agreement with Iran in which America and other nations eased economic sanctions in return for a pause in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Trump called the Obama administration treaty “an embarrassment” for America.
Because the whole argument with Kim is about maneuvering North Korea into negotiations to limit its nuclear program, how might Kim’s natural reluctance to give any ground in nuclear development be affected when he hears Trump speculating about negating the two-year-old Iran deal?
Following the U.N. speech, Kim and Trump have exchanged personal attacks and dire threats. Bluster has for decades been the style of Kim and his familial predecessors; it’s what underdogs do. Previous U.S. presidents and leaders of other nations dealing with — and geographically closer to — North Korea have chosen to react like strong, confident adults. We should now.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.