Donald Trump acted as if he'd resolved a burgeoning crisis with North Korea single-handedly. After the American president engaged in some alliterative saber rattling -- "fire and fury," "locked and loaded" -- tensions cooled two weeks ago, and Trump seemed convinced that he'd intimidated Kim Jong-un into submission.
At a rally in celebration of himself last week in Phoenix, Trump boasted to his followers, "You see what's going on in North Korea.... Kim Jong-un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us."
Perhaps the American president should've kept those self-aggrandizing claims on the shelf a bit longer. Over the weekend, U.S. Pacific Command said North Korea "fired what are believed to be three short-range ballistic missiles." While the launch was largely unsuccessful -- one blew up almost immediately -- and no one was in danger, it was a provocative move.
Last night, North Korea went quite a bit further. The New York Times reported:
North Korea carried out one of its most provocative missile tests in recent years early Tuesday morning, hurling a ballistic missile directly over Japan that prompted the government in Tokyo to warn residents in its path to take cover.The missile flew over the northern island of Hokkaido and landed harmlessly in the sea, after a flight of nearly 1,700 miles. But the propaganda value for the North Koreans was considerable.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the launch as "an unprecedented, serious and significant threat."
Overnight, the White House released a written statement from Trump, reiterating his belief that "all options are on the table" when it comes to North Korea and expressing support for Japan. "Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime's isolation in the region and among all nations of the world," the American president added.
As for North Korea's "respect" for the United States, Trump may want to revisit some of his assumptions.
Indeed, August has been a difficult month for the Republican for a great many reasons, but his handling of U.S. policy towards North Korea has been especially problematic. In fact, three weeks ago, speaking from a golf resort he owns, the president declared that North Korea "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it makes "more threats."
Almost immediately thereafter, Kim Jong-un raised the specter of attacking Guam -- effectively crossing the red line Trump had drawn just hours earlier.
Since the American president was bluffing, nothing happened as a result. Instead, Trump decided to draw another red line, saying, "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,"
Kim Jong-un has ignored this, too. It's almost as if Trump's boast about North Korea's "respect" was rooted in fantasy.