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August 22, 2017

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Donald Trump handling the North Korea threat is a frightening reality

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Guam is known to people in Taiwan as a Pacific island paradise and a dream location for destination weddings. But the U.S.-administered island is now the focal point of escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea.

In a series of missile tests, North Korea appeared to show it has acquired ICBM capacity and could reach American soil with these missiles. The reclusive nation was until recently believed to be years away from mastering the miniaturization of its nuclear arsenal to be able to mount such warheads on its missiles. That is less certain now following reports from Japan that North Korea might have already achieved this. Either way, this nation — often dismissed by the general public as a failed state ruled by a mad dictator with funny hair — is becoming a real threat to the U.S.

Compounding the situation is the unorthodox and some might say clueless policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. Much has been said about how his recent "fire and fury" threat to North Korea channeled the bellicose rhetoric of Pyongyang. Media outlets reported that Trump might have come up with that comment on the spot and to the surprise of his aides. North Korea responded by threatening to attack Guam.

A closer look at his words hints at just how dangerous Trump's approach to international affairs can be. The president warned that threats from North Korea "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." The world has certainly not seen a threat like this made by a modern U.S. president.

The threat seems to have come to him seconds before he said it. Just seconds later he repeated himself, in the same way as a person who found himself saying something that had a nice ring to it and then trying to fine-tune the remark or savor the moment: "and as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."

The idea that the leader of the world's only superpower does not use (and does not have to use) threats like that is foreign to Trump. Now it is clear that the belief Trump would smarten up or heed the advice of experts after he came to office was naive. The man likes making threats, and he has been rewarded throughout his life for his outlandish statements and defiance of experts.

With North Korea becoming a real threat and with a rationality-averse U.S. president, the scenario of the U.S. sleepwalking into a world war is becoming increasingly less unthinkable.

North Korea has since upgraded its threats, saying it will form a plan of attack at Guam "within days." Trump has also doubled down, saying his "fire and fury" comment might not have been strong enough (it is hard to see how — perhaps he now thinks he should have said "fire and fury the universe has never seen.")

The world has been looking at the antics from Pyongyang and the chaos in the White House with bemusement and glee. Now it's time to see them for what they are: serious threats to peace and stability.

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