It seems to be the consensus of national security mavens that the US and North Korea are closer to war now more than ever. Kim Jung Un is the petulant child-dictator of a rogue nuclear powered nation. The US President is a New York businessman with a penchant for hyperbole and vitriol, who also happens to command the largest military in the world with the most nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?
Under the Obama Administration, North Korea was most ignored and allowed to hold its breath until it passed out. North Korea could shot off the occasional missile and make all manner of anti-US rhetoric but in the end, Kim Jun Un seemed to lose interest. Now the Trump administration has determined that North Korea will no longer be tolerated and the each subsequent temper tantrum by North Korea is cause for escalation.
In the last few months, the Trump administration has deployed the THADD missile system to South Korea meant to intercept potential ballistic missiles from the North. Then the USS Carl Vinson was sent to be on station. Another carrier group was rumored to be heading to the vicinity as well. Then the USS Michigan, a guided missile sub, made a port call in South Korea.
North Korea attempted to respond to the increasing US firepower by launching more missiles. The results have been less than impressive with both blowing up shortly after take-off. A subsequent live-fire demonstration of North Korean artillery and torpedoes seemed to show North Korea's resolve to remain unapologetic.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to judge how much Mr. Trump and his administration are blustering or are fully committed to a conflict with North Korea. The inept and much maligned Press Sean Spicer makes matters worse through his clumsy delivery and increasing absence. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has also been largely silent on the matter.
The problem for Mr. Trump, and perhaps why Mr. Obama avoided the issue, is that North Korea can strike South Korea with no warning inflicting tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of casualties with simple artillery strikes and non-nuclear missiles. There isn't much the US will be able to do to prevent it. Retaliation by US and South Korean forces will lead to huge devastation on the Korean peninsula and it will take decades to recover.
The US attention has been diverted by the firing of FBI Director Comey leading some to compared Trump to Nixon when the latter fired Archibald Cox. The one difference being that Nixon had not put North Korea on notice!
Let's we not forget, Mr. Trump plans on increasing the defense budget by $54 billion dollars and adding another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. Even if the showdown with North Korea does not end in a shooting conflict, Mr. Trump seems to be very willing to send more US troops into harm's way.