Trump Threats Are Wild Card in Showdown With North Korea

“On the U.S. side, the tradition has been steely resolve and preparation,” said Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral and head of the United States Pacific Command who went on to serve as director of national intelligence. “But now we have a president who reacts to braggadocio with an attempt to top it on his own side. He’s out there in territory he thinks is familiar, which is meeting exaggerated statement with exaggerated statement, convincing the other side that we’re tough, you’re going to fold.”

In other words, the magnitude of the challenges that Mr. Trump faces has grown dramatically, but his tone has not. And it remains to be seen if the don’t-mess-with-me attitude that cowed Republican primary rivals like Jeb Bush will have a similar effect on a regime that has managed to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States while making progress toward miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that would fit on top.

In this case, Mr. Trump has told people around him that he thinks Kim Jong-un, the unpredictable North Korean leader, will ultimately be prodded to cut a deal, and that the bluntness of his language is intended to create a crisis that drives him to negotiate before North Korea perfects a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the American mainland.

Unlike other presidents, who rejected direct contact with their North Korean counterparts, Mr. Trump has even suggested that he would meet with Mr. Kim if the circumstances were right, perhaps for a hamburger.

“If Kim were to respond positively, Trump might end up as his best friend,” said Scott Snyder, director of the program on United States-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it is as plausible that we could end up with a ‘hamburger summit’ between Trump and Kim as that we will end up in a second Korean War.”

While Mr. Trump and his staff say his statements reflect a desire to deal…

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