Trump packs a punch against North Korea as he embarks on Asia tour

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President Trump relaunched the “U.S. pivot to Asia” this weekend by kicking off a tour that will take him and the first lady across five countries in 12 days. It’s an epic trip, the likes of which an American president hasn’t undertaken in more than a decade. The last sitting president to visit as many countries in the region in one trip was George Bush in 2003.

Officially, the White House has billed the visit as a show of support for the alliance between the United States and Asia, designed to highlight the economic and security ties that bind us together. Stops at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam and at Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Philippines afford opportunities to bolster multilateral alliances, while official state visits to China and South Korea will emphasize the importance of strong bilateral relationships.

{mosads}It’s a grand tour with an even grander message about the importance of regional cooperation in the 21st century. The reality, however, is that this trip also has a far more specific strategic purpose. It is a vehicle for President Trump to deliver a stark message about U.S. military capability and preparedness to a small audience in Pyongyang, arguably an audience of one.

President Trump’s pit stop in Hawaii over the weekend underscored this reality quite clearly. While on the ground, he and the first lady paid tribute to Americans who perished at Pearl Harbor and during America’s subsequent participation in World War II, but he also paid a visit to the U.S. Pacific Command before departing American soil and heading east.

The U.S. Pacific Command is one of only six U.S. unified combatant commands worldwide and an inherently powerful symbol of American military prowess. It’s from this base that the United States extends its reach across the Pacific Ocean and projects military might far and wide across the Asian continent. So it’s fitting that the White House advance team chose this venue for the commander-in-chief to deliver a message that needed to penetrate a regime 5,000 miles away.

The message itself was clear: We’ve got military options and aren’t afraid to use them. The first 10 months of the Trump administration have been a season fraught with chaos, instability, and escalating tension for the bilateral relationship between the United States and North Korea. In spite all of this, however, the policy underwriting U.S. posture towards the rogue nation remains the same. It’d be a mistake to allow the erratic rhetorical attacks and mudslinging between President Trump and Kim Jong Un to distract from this fact.

Furthermore, and perhaps more surprisingly, the Trump administration’s policy towards North Korea is by and large a continuation of the policies of Barack Obama and George Bush. The structural foundation of U.S. policy towards the North has long been diplomacy, with financial sanctions, coupled with the credible threat of military force.

The potency of sanctions and viability of military threats has fluctuated over time and across administrations, but reliance upon diplomacy first and foremost has prevailed. Towards this end, President Trump and his cabinet have been in weekly contact with South Korean, Chinese, and Japanese leadership since day one in the Oval Office. What is left to do now, from their perspective, is to ratchet up the military threat in the hope that intimidation will ultimately bring North Korea to heel.

Thus, we’ve seen Secretary James Mattis, Secretary Rex Tillerson, and Ambassador Nikki Haley repeatedly reference “U.S. military options” and the president’s willingness to employ them, from various summits and missions all across the world stage. Whether this is smart strategy or a fool’s errand remains to be seen. President Trump is fond of insisting that he’s “committed to keeping all options on the table” when it comes to dealing with North Korea. The coming days will afford him the opportunity to hold the world’s attention as he enumerates them all.

Gillian Turner served as an adviser to the National Security Council during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. She is now a Fox News contributor. You can follow her on Twitter @GillianHTurner.

Tags Barack Obama China Donald Trump James Mattis Japan Kim Jong Un National security Nikki Haley North Korea Nuclear weapons Rex Tillerson United States

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