What ever happened to Theodore Roosevelt’s admonition to “speak softly and carry a big stick”? Oh, that’s right, Donald Trump doesn’t spend much time studying history -- or anything else.
Granted, things have changed more than a bit since the hero of San Juan Hill sat in the Oval Office. These days, the big stick has a nuclear tip, and the stakes are much higher.
But President Trump’s gone and broken the foreign policy mold set by his predecessors by provoking North Korean leadership into threats including dropping a nuclear load on Guam, home to 160,000 Americans and 7,000 of our military members.
At this point in history, as proliferation permits weapons of mass destruction to fall into the hands of states run by psychopaths, the odds are pretty good that North Korea’s rogue regime is as serious as a heart attack. Nothing they’ve said suggests temperance or logic or anything but pure military insanity. The fat little toad who is the chief looney tune of the North has already left little doubt that he is just goofy enough to pit his 60-weapon atomic arsenal against a nation that has 6,800 devices capable of incinerating him and his at a moment’s notice.
But here’s the consideration that’s most troubling. The chances are also good that he could inflict some not insignificant damage here -- enough to kill several million, perhaps. He seems very close to a delivery system that puts the United States mainland at risk, including the Washington capital. The damage that could be caused to our system by the dropping of a bomb on the West Front of the Capitol or the White House lawn is unimaginable.
What Trump should understand is that we aren’t dealing with Mickey Mouse here and that threatening Kim Jong-un -- who has shown irrefutable signs of being a madman with homicidal tendencies -- is simply unproductive. In addition to badly scaring the rest of the world, warning out loud that an enemy will be hit with “fire and fury” like no one has ever seen is better left unsaid until you’re ready to make it happen, as Sen. John McCain said after the volatile exchange by Trump and North Korean military men.
There are lots of US defense leaders who understand this and privately and publicly cringed at Trump’s open bellicosity. Speaking softly, the new White House occupant has shown again and again, is not his strong suit. Certainly, carrying out what Trump’s verbalized is possible, as is taking less-catastrophic routes. Everyone knows this, including the North Koreans. So why tweak them in public?
“Step over this line and see what happens!” Trump seems to be taunting.
In all the decades since Harry Truman decided not to spill more American blood by invading Japan, world leaders have understood the horrible consequences of nuclear war, which has prevented it from happening.
But Trump clearly doesn’t realize is how broad his responsibilities truly are -- that they extend as far as the very future of this planet. The 2016 election could turn out to be more of a tragedy than we ever imagined.
The cautionary approach of Roosevelt and others have served us well. If there is hope of backing away from this brinkmanship, it may be through the Chinese, who at least seem to understand the ramifications.
By Dan K. Thomasson
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)