Yet another tumultuous week in domestic affairs, starting with the Charlottesville tragedy and ending with Steve Bannon departing the Trump White House, drove the continuing threats of international terrorism and nuclear proliferation off America’s front pages. The media’s vicissitudes may be inevitable, but they constantly produce “surprising” strategic developments that were both predictable and long in the making.
In that vein, one of the Trump administration’s principal legacies could well be that North Korea (and Iran) became full-fledged nuclear-weapons states on its watch. If so, the risks of radical Islamic terrorism will also increase correspondingly. Certainly, President Trump’s predecessors made critical blunders in counterproliferation policy, thereby laying the foundation for this potentially massive failure. But historical blame rests inevitably with the administration that missed the last clear chance to prevent it.
The mortal risk that terrorists will acquire nuclear (or chemical and biological) weapons is all too clear. ISIS claimed responsibility for Thursday’s deadly terrorist attack in Barcelona, which now appears part of a larger, more complex effort, foiled in part by Spanish authorities. Friday’s terrorist knifings in Finland added to the grim news. Imagine these or other terrorist attacks that deployed weapons of mass destruction.
Ironically, North Korea warranted media attention last week only because of Bannon’s remark, in an interview just before he left government, that no real military option exists against Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. The media, however, largely bungled the significance of his comments, determined instead to prove broader intra-administration disagreements on national-security policy. Unfortunately, whatever the internal dynamics, President Trump’s nuclear-proliferation advisers appear far closer to Barack Obama’s views than anyone would have predicted.
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