News & Politics

Have Trump's Newest Threats Put Us on a Collision Course with Nuclear War?

The president says his "fire and fury" rhetoric may not have been tough enough.

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

The first international crisis of Trump’s tenure deepened Thursday, as the president renewed his verbal attacks on North Korea and criticized China for not doing more to force its neighbor to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

When asked by press pool reporters if his threat to unleash unprecedented “fire and fury” was too harsh, Trump replied, “Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough.”

North Korea replied to Trump’s threat by saying it would attack Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean roughly 1,500 miles away that is home to major military bases.

“They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries,” Trump said, referring to North Korea’s belligerent behavior and ongoing development of nuclear weapons. “So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough. And we’re backed 100 percent by our military, we’re backed by everybody and we’re backed by many other leaders. And I noticed that many senators and others came out today very much in favor of what I said. But if anything that statement may not be tough enough.”

“What's tougher than fire and fury?” the press asked.

“You’ll see. You’ll see,” Trump said.

Was he considering a preemptive strike, the press asked.

“We don’t talk about that. I never do,” Trump said. “What they’ve been doing, what they’ve been getting away with, is a tragedy and it can’t be allowed.”

What about negotiations?

“Sure, we’ll always consider negotiations. But they’ve been negotiating now for 25 years,” Trump said. “I talk. Somebody has to do it.”

Wasn’t he sending mixed messages after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was said to be more conciliatory?

“There were no mixed messages,” Trump said. “Look, here’s the view. I said it yesterday. I don’t have to say it again. And I’ll tell you this, it may be tougher than I said it, not less.”

Trump was then asked what assurances he can offer Americans who feel anxious that he’s jousting with a nuclear-armed state that’s threatening to use its weapons.

“The people of this country should be very comfortable, and I will tell you this. If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attacking anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous,” he replied. “I’ll tell you why. And they should be very nervous. Because things will happen to them like they never thought possible, OK? He’s been pushing the world around for a long time.”

Trump was also asked if China could do more to influence North Korea, its neighbor and a nominal ally.

“I think China can do a lot more, yes, China can,” Trump replied. “And I think China will do a lot more. Look, we have trade with China. We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It’s not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade.”

“So we will do—the people of our country are safe,” he continued. “Our allies are safe. And I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together, or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world.”

Trump said he would answer more questions after his meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Chief of Staff John Kelly later in the day.


Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).


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