The most worrying thing about the current fight between President Trump and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) is that it is just that. Normally the dispute would be between the DPRK and an American administration. But there is no Trump administration.
To have an administration, you need a coherent policy at the top. We now know that Trump’s “fire and fury” threat was his own phrasing, albeit perhaps drawn from a video game in which his alt-right advisor Stephen Bannon has an interest. Meanwhile, his senior advisors are all over the map.
Secretary of State has said that the United States will not negotiate unless DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jung Un agrees to abandon his missile and nuclear programs. He later amended his previous statement, saying that stopping missile (but not nuclear) tests was the precondition. Vice President Mike Pence said that there would be no negotiations and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a dire warning slightly less colorful than Trump’s. All this amid reports of a chasm between the views of the senior positions mostly held by retired generals and those held by Steve Bannon and the political wing.