President Trump, in the midst of a week of high tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program, on Friday introduced the possibility of another military confrontation — with Venezuela — surprising most observers.
"We have many options for Venezuela," he told reporters at his golf club in New Jersey after meeting with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security advisor H.R. McMaster. "And by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option."
It was unclear how seriously to take the threat, given Trump's propensity to speak off the cuff and the casual nature of the statement. He often says he does not like to take any options of the table because he believes it keeps adversaries off balance.
In threatening to launch an attack on Guam, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state-run media, used the term 포위사격 (powi sagyuk), which a popular online dictionary translates as “enveloping fire” or “converging fire.”
But “fire” as used by the North Koreans in this instance doesn’t mean flames, as suggested by President Trump’s “fire and fury” remark.
Rather, sagyuk means to fire or shoot in the sense of firing a gun or missile at a target. Powi means to encircle or surround. The phrase powi sagyuk is more of a technical military threat – that missiles will come from all directions – than a blustery rhetorical one as the translation “enveloping fire” might suggest.
If the U.S. diplomatic community reacted in shock yesterday when President Trump said he would thank Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755, Russian lawmakers said they were calling the U.S. president’s bluff.
"The reaction of U.S. President Donald Trump to the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia is, of course, a kind of a ‘good face in a bad game,’” said Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Committee on International Affairs in the Russian parliament.
Putin last month announced that the U.S. diplomatic mission to Russia must be cut to 455, the same number of staff in Russia’s embassies and consulates in the U.S. Moscow also seized two diplomatic properties in Moscow used by the U.S. embassy. The move was seen as retaliation for former President Barack Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian intelligence officers and retake two houses used by the Russian embassy in Maryland and New York.
President Trump on Friday released another provocative statement aimed at North Korea, tweeting "military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely."
"Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"
Trump's comments, at least some of which have not been scripted with his foreign policy team, have alarmed many allies and members of the foreign policy community, who have expressed concern about enflaming a volatile situation with an unpredictable nuclear foe.
President Trump said he has no intention of firing Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating his administration’s ties to Russia, a probe that he repeatedly has attacked as a “witch hunt.”
Trump, speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, N.J., club after a meeting with advisors Thursday, again insisted that there had been no collusion between his campaign and Russian leaders, but cooled his fiery rhetoric attacking Mueller and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions.
“I haven’t given it any thought,” he said, when asked whether he might fire Mueller.
President Trump waited a week and a half to comment on Russian President Vladimir Putin's order to cut the U.S. diplomatic staff in Moscow by hundreds of people.
When he did, his response came as a joke.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters Thursday, flashing a small grin.
President Trump redoubled his threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea, saying Thursday that “maybe it wasn’t tough enough.”
Trump used four versions of the word “tough” in describing his posture toward North Korea for its continued pursuit of a nuclear-armed intercontinental missile, while downplaying the potential for successful negotiations.
“Sure, we’ll always consider negotiations. But they’ve been negotiating now for 25 years,” he said, addressing reporters from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., with Vice President Mike Pence beside him.
Fed up with what he calls White House inaction in Afghanistan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday unveiled his own strategy for the war-torn country — offering a plan that provides U.S. military commanders with broader authority to pursue militant forces.
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has urged the Trump administration for months to submit to Congress a new Afghanistan strategy due to the worsening security situation in that country.
Nine U.S. troops have been killed in the country thus far this year — as many as were killed in all of 2016.