When North Korea backed off its plan to fire missiles toward Guam two weeks ago, President Trump praised Kim Jong-un for a “very wise and well reasoned decision.” At his now infamous rally in Phoenix last week, Trump suggested that his warnings to North Korea—“fire and fury” and all that—had changed the North Korean leader’s thinking:
I can tell you, what I said, that's not strong enough. Some people said it's too strong, it's not strong enough. But Kim Jong Un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. Respect that fact.
Just days later, North Korea fired short-range missiles off its coast. Then Monday night, it issued its most brazen provocation in years by firing a ballistic missile over Northern Japan. Kim doesn’t seem to be backing down and he doesn’t seem to respect us very much either.
Trump vowed just before taking office that a North Korean missile capable of reaching the United States “won’t happen” while he’s president. If North Korea hasn’t accomplished this already—as some experts believe it has—it will very soon.
Tuesday morning, Trump repeated the Washington cliché that “all options are on the table” as the U.S. mulls its response—a warning that’s been issued time and again for more than a decade. Kim, “smart cookie” that he is, has probably acquired enough evidence at this point to realize that the U.S. is unlikely to take military action to stop him as long as he has literal guns to the heads of 25 million people in Seoul. Which means that for all his tough talk, Trump isn’t any closer to solving the North Korea problem than his predecessors were.