EDITORIAL: The unsound and the 'fury'

York Dispatch

Cross your fingers and hold your breath.

President Donald Trump talks about North Korea during a briefing on the opioid crisis, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump is facing the most serious foreign policy challenge of his young and restless presidency, and he’s managing matters in characteristic fashion: Bombastic tweets and bellicose threats.

It’s bad enough that the madman at the head of North Korea routinely warns that western nations, the United States chief among them, face a “sea of fire” if they threaten the rouge regime. It’s worse when the leader of the free world responds that North Korea “best not” continue to threaten the U.S., lest it face “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

That was the president’s warning at a press conference this week, in the wake of reports that North Korea is much closer to realizing its nuclear goals than was previously thought.

In other words, welcome to diplomacy, Trump style.

The issue has been escalating since the UN Security Council tightened sanctions this week on North Korea after leader Kim Jong Un’s regime fired two Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles last month. News this week that Kim’s government has developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can be fitted onto an ICBM has raised the stakes.

Alas, when the stakes are raised, Trump can’t help but double down.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hastened to inform reporters Wednesday that there was no “imminent threat.” That might have salved international nerves, had not Trump then immediately begun boasting on Twitter about the U.S.’s powerful nuclear arsenal. “Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” he tweeted in a warning as subtle as it was ill-advised.

Tillerson then sought to downplay the messages, reported the Atlantic: “He said Trump’s strong language was a clear message to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, ‘because he (Kim) doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language.’” (The parenthetical clarification was not only helpful, but necessary.)

Isn’t it time, now that a nuclear crisis may be on the horizon, that the president’s senior advisors stop making excuses for his irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous rhetoric? From “telling it like it is” to “locker room talk” to, now, using language a pariah dictator can understand, this enabling has done nothing to spur the growth in office supporters were promised and critics hoped for. Just the opposite: It has emboldened a continuation of often-baseless, usually thoughtless, reliably useless commentary.

New Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general, was advertised as being brought on board to instill discipline in a chaotic White House and,as Bloomberg put it, “Tame Trump’s Tweets.” So far, no good.

Tillerson is saying the right things, but his efforts to lower the heat on simmering tensions have been repeatedly undermined by his boss.

The ongoing game of musical chairs in the White House is disconcerting but harmless. The inability to pass major legislation is surprising and (depending where one stands politically) either frustrating or consoling. But the failure to ratchet down a spiraling standoff with an unstable nuclear power is deadly serious.

The White House — and its occupant — must respond in kind. Close the Twitter account. Open the diplomatic channels.