Faced with a threat from North Korea that it might soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile, President-elect Donald J. Trump took to Twitter on Monday to declare bluntly, "It won't happen!"Mr. Trump made his post on Twitter, where he often tests out his first thoughts on developing issues in the United States and abroad, a day after North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, declared that the "final stage in preparations" was underway for a test of such a missile. Mr. Kim offered no time frame.
A few days before Christmas, for reasons that weren't at all clear, Donald Trump rattled much of the world with an alarmingly ambiguous tweet about nuclear weapons and an expansion of the U.S. arsenal. A day later, the president-elect reportedly said he's prepared for a new international "arms race" that he's certain the United States would win.This was a teaching moment for the amateur politician: when talking about the world's most dangerous weapons, don't use Twitter to make vague policy pronouncements, don't terrify international partners, and don't throw around reckless rhetoric.Two weeks later, it's clear Trump has learned nothing. The New York Times reported overnight:
The American president-elect, who's a little too fond of exclamation points, initially said via his favorite social-media tool, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!" (For the record, that's not exactly what North Korea said.)Trump, still overly committed to exclamation points, quickly added, "China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!"In recent weeks, Trump has antagonized China in ways that don't appear to make sense. Trump has also used Twitter to throw around careless rhetoric about nuclear weapons. Yesterday, it was apparently time to combine both.This is all quite unsettling, not only because of the sensitivity surrounding the underlying issues, but also because Trump doesn't appear to have any idea what he's doing. Is he prepared to strike North Korea? Does he understand what Kim Jong-un said over the weekend? Does Trump believe trade with China is directly connected to China's "help" with North Korea?Does he understand that nuclear diplomacy via Twitter messages is inherently dangerous?The fact that these questions remain unanswered are a reminder about the scope of the risk Americans took when 46% of voters placed an unprepared amateur in the Oval Office.