Reading over the text of Trump’s U.N. speech, I was most struck by the impossible goal he has set for U.S. policy towards North Korea:
It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.
That may have been a plausible goal a decade and a half ago when North Korea didn’t already possess dozens of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, but now that North Korea has them it isn’t going to give them up. It isn’t reasonable to threaten to “totally destroy” a regime in one breath and then urge them to abandon the only things that ought to guarantee their security from attack in the next. Everything Trump has done since taking office has confirmed the North Korean government in its view that denuclearization is one thing they should never agree to. North Korea won’t “realize” that it has to denuclearize because there is no incentive the U.S. can give it that is valuable enough to get them to agree, and the cautionary tale of Gaddafi makes them assume that any deal that they might make with the U.S. would be broken later on. Trump’s obvious desire to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran also gives them reason to disbelieve any commitments the U.S. might make.
The danger here is that Trump has defined everything except North Korean denuclearization as unacceptable, and that implies that the U.S. won’t tolerate North Korea’s continued possession of nuclear weapons. That suggests that Trump could be contemplating launching an illegal preventive war, and such a war would likely escalate to a nuclear exchange that would claim the lives of millions at a minimum. That is the trap that Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric is creating for the U.S. It is imperative that Congress and the public do everything possible oppose any drive for starting a war with North Korea.