Trump's 'fire and fury' rhetoric drags the US to North Korea's level -- but he may have an ulterior motive

Donald trumpAlex Wong/Getty ImagesTrump said some very escalatory things about North Korea, but why?

President Donald Trump issued a stern warning to Pyongyang on Tuesday, saying that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States” or “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

It took just over two hours for North Korea to respond with exactly what Trump warned against, a threat against a US territory.

A statement from North Korea then threatened to strike Guam, a US territory in the Pacific home to large naval and Air Force bases if the US offered any provocation. The statement specifically singled out the US’s fleet of strategic bombers in Guam, which had overflown the Korean peninsula the day before.

While no military exchange followed the verbal flurry, Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson center, said that damage may have been done to the US’s credibility, diplomatic, and moral high ground.

“There is a striking and interesting similarity between Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ comment and North Korea’s popular threat to turn Seoul into ‘a sea of fire and a pile of ashes’,” Sun told Business Insider.

Sun said that since North Korea traffics in over-the-top threats regularly, it may recognise Trump’s threat as a bluff, “but it raises a dangerous scenario where Kim Jong Un continues to defy US threats.”

B 52 over GuamUS Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. GruenwaldA B-52 Stratofortress from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron leads a formation of Japanese Air Self Defence Force F-2s from the 6th Squadron, U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 18th Aggressor Squadron, and a U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136 over Guam Feb. 10, 2009.

Essentially, Trump has backed himself into a corner with his threat against Kim. If he ignores North Korea’s response, then the US loses credibility. If he follows through with the “fire and fury,” then the US enters into a gruesome and potentially nuclear war that threatens millions of civilian lives.

“If Trump chooses to react to it verbally, it downgrades US to the same level as North Korea. If Trump chooses to react to it with actions, it sends everyone onto a war path,” said Sun.

Frank Aum, a former senior adviser on North Korea for the Department of Defence, agreed with Sun’s assessment.

“Trump’s language is irresponsible and escalatory. It sets a redline and expectation that gives Trump little room to wiggle out without looking foolish,” Aum told Business Insider.

However, Aum suggested an ulterior motive for Trump’s brash statement: Putting China on notice.

Trump “is threatening a war to get China to clamp down harder on North Korea’s behaviour. It’s a risky manoeuvre,” said Aum, who concluded that increasing threats or military pressure on North Korea had no real effect.

Whatever the intention, Trump’s fiery threats fly in the face of traditional diplomacy, though diplomacy has also been ineffective in dealing with North Korea for decades.

But most countries agree, “the best approach to deal with North Korea’s inflammatory rhetoric is to ignore it and focus on the real actions” to pressure North Korea, said Sun. “A spat is not going to solve the problem.”

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