Did Trump throw gasoline on a flame yesterday with his remarks about North Korea, or just ensure that there was no ambiguity about a US response to a provocation? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters earlier this morning that he sees no problem from Trump’s “fire and fury” comments, and that it doesn’t indicate a military escalation. “He doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Rex Tillerson said of Kim Jong-un, while Trump’s critics have aimed the same complaint about him:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 9, 2017
In more tranquil terms, Tillerson sought to explain the thinking behind Trump’s warning to Pyongyang that it would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it made more threats to the United States. Tillerson said Trump was trying to send a strong and clear message to North Korea’s leader so that there wouldn’t be “any miscalculation.”
“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S. unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies.”
“Americans,” Tillerson added, “should sleep well at night.” Now he tells us.
If North Korea hoped to put pressure on Guam to split from the US with its nuclear threat against the island, the plan may have backfired. Governor Eddie Baza Calvo, who has backed a popular movement to demand greater autonomy from the US, issued a video statement this morning stressing the unity between Guam and the US military while downplaying the threat from Pyongyang. Calvo told Guamanians that the White House assured him that they will robustly defend Guam and the Marianas.
Calvo also took the opportunity to “remind the national media that Guam is American soil”:
“There is no change in the threat level resulting from North Korea events,” Calvo said.
He adds that he will continue discussions with Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield to discuss military and first-responder readiness, to ensure that Guam is “prepared for any eventuality.”
“An attack or threat on Guam is an attack or threat on the United States,” Calvo said.
The leader of Guam’s legislature sounded a bit more worried than Calvo about the threat, calling it “very disconcerting”:
Still, the speaker of the Guam Legislature told The Associated Press he hopes the island can defend itself in the event of a North Korean attack.
“We’re just praying that the United States and the … defense system we have here is sufficient enough to protect us,” Benjamin J. Cruz said.
Cruz said the threat is “very disconcerting,” adding, “It forces us to pause and to say a prayer for the safety of our people.”
It doesn’t sound as though Guamanians will be sleeping well at night, and who can blame them? Still, it seems highly unlikely that Guam would get the first-strike treatment. North Korea spent their treasure on a system to hit the US mainland. Now that they’re on the cusp of ICBM capability, they’re not going to risk their own annihilation just to hit a target they could have attacked years ago. Tillerson may be right that the threats have escalated in part because the US has begun to make it much more clear that we’re willing to go back to war to stop that threat. That strategy only works, though, if the Kim regime is rational. The evidence for that is shaky … at best.