WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump again raised the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea, boasting in strikingly playground terms on Tuesday night that he commands a “much bigger” and “more powerful” arsenal of devastating weapons than the outlier government in Asia.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,'” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump’s combative response to a statement made the day before by Kim raised the temperature in the brewing confrontation between the United States and North Korea even as American allies in South Korea were moving to open talks with Pyongyang. The contrast between Trump’s language and the peace overture by South Korea highlighted the growing rift between two longtime allies.
The president’s tone also generated a mix of scorn and alarm among lawmakers, diplomats and national security experts who called it juvenile and frightening for a president handling a foreign policy challenge with world-wrecking consequences. The language was reminiscent of Trump’s boast during the 2016 presidential campaign that his hands, and by extension his genitals, were in fact big enough.
It came on a day when Trump, back in Washington from his Florida holiday break, effectively opened his new year with a barrage of provocative tweets on a host of issues. He called for an aide to Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail, threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan and the Palestinians, assailed Democrats over immigration, claimed credit for the fact that no one died in a jet plane crash last year and announced that he would announce his own award next Monday for the most dishonest and corrupt news media.
The North Korea tweet near the end of the day seemed most distressing to some in Washington watching the escalating clash between the United States and a nuclear-armed North.
“I guess the president regards this as a show of strength,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN. “But as everybody who’s ever been in a, you know, first-grade playground recognizes, it’s usually the person who’s most aggressively pounding their chest that is in fact the weak one on the playground.”
Eliot A. Cohen, who was counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice under President George W. Bush, said the tweet demonstrated an immaturity that is dangerous in a commander in chief.
“Spoken like a petulant ten year old,” Cohen wrote on Twitter. “But one with nuclear weapons — for real — at his disposal. How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me.”
Trump’s supporters brushed off the criticism, calling the president’s words a bracing stand that would force North Korea to confront the potential repercussions of its efforts to develop nuclear weapons that could reach the continental United States.
Michael Flynn Jr., the son of the president’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in the Russia investigation, said Trump’s tweet was “just awesome.” He added on Twitter: “This is why Trump was elected. A no bulls#t leader not afraid to stand up for his country.”