Last Friday, I penned an article asking whether Donald Trump was about to kick off World War III. I wrote it in response to his out of the blue aggression against North Korea, and the shocking lack of foresight he is showing by attempting to interfere in a region he clearly knows nothing about. The article took off and went viral for the whole weekend. Why? Because the public was thinking exactly the same thing and were frantically googling "World War 3".
Had President Obama overtly threatened North Korea you could safely assume that it would have been a calculated move as part of a broader strategy. But with Donald Trump leading the charge, you can safely assume that it is not a calculated move and not part of a broader strategy. Trump is going after North Korea because he thinks it makes him look tough and believes China will realize what a big strong leader he is. China of course doesn't think this at all -- they believe Trump is a unstable buffoon meddling in a situation he doesn't understand. Trump has admitted this much himself after meeting with the Chinese president and declaring he had no idea how complicated the situation was -- an astonishing revelation given he then went ahead with his gunboat diplomacy only days later.
There is a collective understanding that having someone as unstable as Trump leading the most powerful military on the planet is a recipe for disaster, and his every move is scrutinized carefully by the international community in the hopes his idiocy can be contained. Reputable media institutions might struggle to find the right terminology to describe Trump's incoherent foreign policy philosophy, but we aren't here at the Banter -- it is just raw stupidity, and nothing more. As The Atlantic's Stephen Sestanovich put it, Trump promised to do "more and less" with America's military (which of course makes no sense whatsoever):
Trump did not offer a conventional “Come Home, America”–style program of isolationism. Instead, he promised kick-ass confrontation. We had been “losing” for too long. The right response, the way to start and keep “winning,” was not to get out of the game but to play it better—smarter, harder, tougher. Trump was the candidate who, claiming to know more about isis than the generals, would “bomb the shit” out of it. (With no inhibitions, either: What, he reportedly asked expert briefers, was wrong with using nuclear weapons against terrorists?) He had more experience negotiating business deals than the trade lawyers did, and knew how to cultivate the kind of personal relationships with the world’s high rollers that professional diplomats could only dream of.
This is all to say that there is no Trumpian view of the world -- it is just a cynical mishmash of paranoid delusion, miscalculated aggression and unguided bravado. 'America First' means whatever Trump feels at any particular moment, and the rest of us will be left picking up the pieces. In Trump's ego based world view, there are no consequences for American force -- he can just kick some ass, take the glory and leave without worry about what the CIA refer to as "blowback". The 'America First' philosophy is based on an infantile assumption that America can take what it wants and is not responsible for its actions. In the reality, other countries will respond to Trump's aggression and hostility in kind, making the survival of our species all the less likely. Because in the age of awesomely destructive nuclear weapons, we can incinerate ourselves in the blink of an eye.
Should Trump keep pushing North Korea without regard for the consequences, a conflict could spiral out of control incredibly quickly. As the New York Times reported today:
What is playing out, said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who tracks this potentially deadly interplay, is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” But the slow-motion part appears to be speeding up, as President Trump and his aides have made it clear that the United States will no longer tolerate the incremental advances that have moved Mr. Kim so close to his goals....
While all historical analogies are necessarily imprecise — for starters, President John F. Kennedy dealt with the Soviets and Fidel Castro in a perilous 13 days in 1962, while the roots of the Korean crisis go back a quarter-century — one parallel shines through. When national ambitions, personal ego and deadly weapons are all in the mix, the opportunities for miscalculation are many.
Despite Trump's insistence that American dick swinging will make North Korea give up its nukes, history shows us that the exact opposite is true. When Bush invaded Iraq (a country with no nuclear weapons) and threatened North Korea, it prompted Kim Jong Il to ramp up its nuclear efforts. Faced with more threats today, the hermit kingdom will almost certainly double down on its efforts to develop more powerful nuclear weapons again, making the likelihood of a horrendous accident infinitely more likely, and the consequences of a war even more deadly. Trump is making the world a more dangerous place by the day, and if cooler heads do not prevail we may well be on the cusp of an almighty global conflict that Trump's people have wanted all along.