Five days after firing five dozen Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning threatened to “solve” the North Korea “problem” alone if China refuses to do more.
The president used two Twitter posts to send messages to Pyongyang and its lone remaining ally, China, dangling a trade deal more beneficial for Beijing in return for its help curbing North Korea’s nuclear arms and long-range missile programs.
Trump wrote that he “explained” to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 24-hour summit late last week at a Florida resort he owns that any bilateral “trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!”
After making an alleged fortune — Trump has not released financial documents to verify his boasts — as a businessman, the New York real estate tycoon ran on his dealmaking prowess. The first Tuesday morning tweet reflects such an approach to foreign policy, offering Xi something in return for his increased pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
It represents just what the populist U.S. president’s base supporters and the millions of Republican voters who put him in the White House voted for.
But next came some sabre-rattling with vague threats that likely could only be fulfilled via U.S. military force.
“North Korea is looking for trouble,” the U.S. commander in chief tweeted. Trump added that if Xi’s government opts against getting the North in line with American whims, he will “ will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”
A White House National Security Council spokesman did not respond when asked if Trump is signaling he is prepared to use U.S. military force should Pyongyang not alter its behavior or give up its nuclear materials.
The morning tweets continue the shift noted in this story how the administration mostly focused on domestic policy goals pivoted after the Tomahawks were launched Thursday night to several days of tough talk aimed at foes and would-be adversaries.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday said the president is willing to act again in Syria — and beyond.
Spicer repeated Trump’s aversion to stating his national security plans publicly, but he did let the world now something about a commander in chief who suddenly is rattling the American sabre almost daily: “But make no mistake, he will act.”
Christine Wormuth, a former Pentagon policy chief under President Barack Obama, says “It’s too soon to tell if this [tougher] tone is indicative of a president who is now more willing to use force.”
Trump could merely be “riding the wave of what were mostly positive reviews and headlines after the Syria strike,” Wormuth said.
“I think it’s important to remember that while the president is someone who is inclined to act on his gut instincts, the people now advising him on national security — H.R. McMaster, James Mattis and Gen. [Joseph] Dunford — are very experienced national security hands,” she said.
Still, Wormuth acknowledged that the new national security adviser, Defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman are but one faction among a number of competing power centers inside the White House and administration. On any given day, it is unclear which faction has Trump’s ear.
But when the McMaster-Mattis-Dunford faction — all are current for former generals ± do give their advice to the president, Wormuth said.
“I expect they’ll make the strongest possible case about the complexities of these decisions,” she said.