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THE WASHINGTON POST

On North Korea, Trump Has Now Gone Full 'Madman'

The U.S. president's threat to 'totally destroy' a nation is beyond the pale. But is there method to it?

Trump leaving the podium after his speech on Sept. 19
Trump leaving the podium after his speech on Sept. 19
Aaron Blake

-OpEd-

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump took to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday and, in his maiden speech there, called the leader of North Korea "Rocket Man," decried "loser terrorists' and said certain parts of the world are "in fact, going to hell."

But Trump's perhaps oddly chosen colloquialisms masked what was an astounding escalation of his rhetoric when it comes to North Korea. Just to be clear: The president of the United States threatened to wipe a country of 25 million people off the map.

"Now North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life," Trump said. He later added: "The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself."

This seems to be Trump even more fully embracing the so-called "madman theory."

Trump's rhetoric on North Korea has been very tough before. He turned heads last month by threatening to unleash "fire and fury" if North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, threatened the United States. But Trump's speech Tuesday ratcheted things up in two respects: saying the United States would also unleash a massive response on behalf of its allies, and threatening to "totally destroy" the country.

"Fire and fury" could be interpreted as a threat to simply remove Kim and his government; "totally destroy North Korea" seems to be a signal to the North Korean people that they, too, could face annihilation alongside their government leaders. It sounds a lot like Trump is threatening an unprecedented effort to wipe out an entire nation, whether through nuclear weapons or more conventional means. It's a remarkably big statement, and the White House will undoubtedly be asked to clarify.

It's also different from the "fire and fury" comment in that this was Trump delivering a prepared speech, in which his words were undoubtedly pored over extensively beforehand. The White House acknowledged after Trump made the "fire and fury" comments that they were ad-libbed, and analysts generally agreed that perhaps the commander in chief got a little carried away and became hyperbolic — as he tends to do.

Rolling Stone magazine's Oct. 5 cover

Trump's address to the United Nations on Tuesday should erase any doubts that he is threatening an unprecedented military strike against North Korea. This seems to be Trump even more fully embracing the so-called "madman theory," in which he makes himself so unpredictable that other world leaders fear setting him off.

But that approach isn't without its downsides. Former general David Petraeus described it thusly a few days back:

"There is some merit to this. You can argue perhaps there is some merit to it in international relations, although it obviously can go too far. My concern there with the so-called "madman theory" — that actually Richard Nixon put forward through Kissinger where he had Kissinger tell the Soviets, "You know, Nixon's under a lot of pressure right now and, you know, he drinks at night sometimes, so you guys ought to be real careful. Don't push this into a crisis." There may, again, be some merit into the madman theory until you get in a crisis. But you do not want the other side thinking you are irrational in a crisis. You do not want the other side thinking that you might be sufficiently irrational to conduct a first strike or to do something, you know, so-called "unthinkable.""

Polls show the American people are not confident in Trump's ability to handle the North Korea situation, with 61% saying they are "uneasy." Trump's words Tuesday likely won't calm many fears, but he's clearly gambling on North Korea backing down in the face of big talk.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

Keep reading...Show less

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