Why did President Trump suddenly go wheels-up on a grueling, 12-day Asian tour? As new polling data suggests, it might be because North Korea has suddenly emerged as a major nuclear threat in the eyes of most Americans.
In the November IBD/TIPP Poll, taken from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, 73% said they were "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the "possibility of a nuclear attack by North Korea against the U.S. or its allies." The national poll of 917 adult Americans has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.
Recent news developments no doubt feed this growing fear.
On Sunday, Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that it would take a ground invasion of North Korea to destroy its nuclear weapons capability. Dumont noted that Seoul, the South Korean capital that lies just 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, would be vulnerable to attack by artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles in the event of a war. Seoul is home to 25 million people.
Meanwhile, just days ago, an unnamed U.S. official told CNN that North Korea is "working on an advanced version of its existing KN-20 intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach the United States." The totalitarian regime of Kim Jong Un launched its first ICBM just last July, so the progress is rapid. An ICBM could potentially reach the U.S. in a little over half an hour.
Based on this escalation, blunt-talking U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis last month made clear what the U.S. policy was: "I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power," he said.
So a very clear and bright line has been drawn for all to see.
Americans seem to understand this. While on many issues these days there are often sharp, even divisive, splits in general opinion based on party affiliation, that's not the case with North Korea's nuclear threat, the IBD/TIPP Poll's results show.
Among Democrats, for instance, 86% said they were concerned, vs. just 14% saying they weren't. But Republicans weren't too far behind, with 69% expressing concern about a North Korean nuke, compared with 31% not being concerned. For independents, it was 65% concerned vs. 35% not concerned.
A surprising share of those queried also believe that a military conflict between the U.S. is "inevitable." Some 27% said the U.S. and North Korea will go to war — 37% of Republicans, 22% of Democrats and 25% of independents.
That explains Trump's tough talk on Monday, as he began the first leg of his nearly two-week tour. Speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next to him, Trump referred to the "North Korean menace" and vowed that "the era of strategic patience is over."
"The regime continues development of its unlawful weapons programs, including its illegal nuclear tests and outrageous launches of ballistic missiles directly overly Japanese territory," Trump said. "We will not stand for that."
Americans have good reason to be worried about the totalitarian North Korean regime's nuclear schemes. Given the brutal nature of the murderous Kim regime and its potential instability, a nuclear North Korea is a nonstarter.
President Trump is expected to meet with Chinese officials and possibly also Russian leader Vladimir Putin during his trip. No item on the agenda will be more important than North Korea's burgeoning nuclear program.
American presidents of both parties have kicked this can down the road for decades, leaving it for someone else to resolve. Trump is the first to really take it seriously. As we've said before, China is North Korea's main patron. We hope, and expect, Trump will mince no words in expressing his disappointment over China failing to leash its mad dog in Pyongyang.
Americans might be surprised to know that the U.S. is already technically at war with North Korea, since the hostilities of the Korean War ended with a cease-fire — not a formal end of the state of war. For one side of the conflict — North Korea — that state of war is very real. Seeing Kim's growing nuclear program, Americans are also starting to realize the threat is real.
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