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Must Trump always divide us?

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

If ever there was a foreign policy issue around which our nation should be united, it's the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Many regimes deserve to be called "criminal," but few more so than Kim Jong Un's. Human Rights Watch calls North Korea "one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world." It seeks "fearful obedience by using public executions, arbitrary detention, and forced labor."

The group points to a United Nations report documenting "systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations" that included "murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence."

North Korea's actions constituted "crimes against humanity." They entail "effectively enslaving hundreds of thousands of citizens, including children, in prison camps and other detention facilities" and involve "beatings and torture by guards, and forced labor in dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions."

There is a savage madness to this government, and the prospect of its utterly unstable leader getting his hands on usable nuclear weapons is terrifying.

There is also a kind of tragic consensus among students of international relations that the United States lacks any obvious good options. Of course the U.S. has the military power to take on a small and economically miserable country, but the costs of such action could be enormous. They would likely fall first on South Korea, a loyal and prosperous U.S. ally. Seoul, its bustling capital, is home to some 10 million people and lies just 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.

Confronting these horrifying realities, the vast majority of Americans, I suspect, would prefer to suspend our acrid politics in dealing with this issue and support President Trump if he pursued a tough but serious and carefully orchestrated policy. Trump may be given to hyperbolic (and often fact-free) attacks on those he perceives as enemies, but it's hard to be hyperbolic where Kim is concerned. He's about as scary and cruel as they come.

And this is where Trump's temperamental unfitness for the office he occupies is disturbing for reasons that go far beyond party or ideology. There was nothing useful about his telling reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."

Sen. John McCain is nobody's idea of a dove, but he knew bombast when he saw it. "I take exception to the president's comments because you got to be sure that you can do what you say you're going to do," McCain told a Phoenix radio station. "The great leaders that I've seen, they don't threaten unless they are ready to act and I'm not sure President Trump is ready to act."

The implication of Trump's statement was that he'd abandon decades of presidential restraint and be willing to use nuclear weapons. He ratcheted his threat upward on Wednesday (and confused matters at the same time) with a pair of conjoined tweets that read:

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