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Fecteau: Trump’s Nuke Bluff Backfired

Thursday, August 10, 2017


It is concerning when the President of the United States sounds a lot like the strongman of North Korea – Kim Jong-Un. During a photo op, President Donald J. Trump came out saying it will face “fire, fury, and frankly, power” like never seen before if it continues to threaten the United States. Regrettably, Mr. Trump’s ambiguous, toothless saber rattling just seriously undermined his credibility if he fails to deliver.

Was Mr. Trump threatening nuclear war with this statement? No one is quite sure. Mr. Trump hasn’t yet clarified his remarks. Some have speculated he was, in fact, referring to nuclear war with such bombastic rhetoric. This comes at a time when the United Nations Security Council has imposed even more stringent sanctions against North Korea, making the hermit state that much more desperate.

Mr. Trump could be trying to intimidate North Korea, but no one does crazy quite like North Korea. Predictably, within hours, North Korea threatened a preemptive strike against the United States, specifically looking forward to attacking the U.S. territory of Guam. This was met with — obviously — no “fire, fury." Instead, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came out with a bland disclaimer saying North Korea isn't likely going to strike Guam.

While Mr. Tillerson tried to alleviate some concerns saying: “Americans should sleep well at night,” the damage has already been done. No one should endorse the nuclear option; it is bad all around, but when the president of the United States says something and fails to deliver, the entire country and the president look weak and utterly incompetent.

Mr. Trump's erratic behavior should be concerning to the entire the world — no one wants nuclear war so why flirt with the idea of it? Some intelligence agencies assessed North Korea developed a miniature nuclear warhead that can fit onto a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile which it has in its possession, capable of hitting the U.S. mainland – a scary thought.

Mr. Trump’s empty rhetoric was entertaining on his reality television show, but this is real life and he is the president of the United States. These are real nuclear weapons that can wipe out millions if not the entire planet. I never heard another U.S. president threaten a country with nuclear war though Mr. Trump is certainly not a conventional president. We’ve seen this television rhetoric before whether it is a beauty queen or Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. This time, nevertheless, is far more serious involving a nuclear holocaust.

Mr. Trump just undermined his standing and the credibility of the United States massively if he does nothing in the face of North Korea’s threats. Remember when President Barack Obama talked about red lines with Syria? Mr. Obama's credibility was called into question by many conservatives and Republicans when President Obama failed to deliver on the promise to hold President of Syria Bashir al-Assad accountable. Well, now Mr. Trump just warned (or potentially warned) of something he likely won’t deliver on – nuclear war.

When Trump makes more threats, Mr. Trump won't be seen as credible, and not taken seriously. This is the consequence of electing a bully as a president. Bullies are bullies for a reason, serious insecurity issues. They intimidate, yet retreat in the face of even the slightest hint of adversity. North Korea just stood up to the United States (including Mr. Trump) and won.

I am happy Mr. Trump isn’t going ahead with his threat, but also concerned about why he would make it in the first place. This is serious, and the United States should be the adult in the room when dealing with pariah states like North Korea; unfortunately, in this case, it looked like a big bully who backed down from a fight.   


Matthew J. Fecteau is a M.P.A. candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a former Congressional candidate, and an Iraq War veteran.


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