If you're wondering why Donald Trump's rhetoric on North Korea seemed to go from zero to 100 on Tuesday, Aug. 8, it might just be because he was at "zero" way back in 1999. That was the year the president, who at the time was just a businessman of course, appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and talked about what he'd do if he was commander-in-chief. Simply put, the video of Trump talking about North Korea nearly two decades ago is eerie today, particularly considering Trump's threat to North Korea on Tuesday.
During the 1999 interview, Trump said he'd first attempt to make a "deal" with North Korea, in order to lower the threat of a nuclear strike from the long-time adversary. More importantly, though, he said that in the event attempts to negotiate were unsuccessful, the U.S. would have to "do something" about North Korea, a clear allusion to pre-emptive military action.
When host Tim Russert pushed back against the idea of military action against North Korea, Trump insisted that it was better to consider striking early rather than wait for North Korea to get stronger.
You want to do it in five years? When they have warheads all over the place, every one of them pointing to New York City, to Washington -- is that when you wanna do it? Or do you want to do something now? You better do it now... If they think you're serious, they'll negotiate and it'll never come to that.
The 18-year-old interview provides important context for Trump's current approach to North Korea in two ways.
First, the video is a reminder that the question of "what to do with North Korea" has been a significant one for decades. Two, it's also a reminder that attempts to negotiate with North Korea have indeed failed and that the country has developed its nuclear program as a result, to the point that a strike against the continental U.S. seems much more of a reality.
So, considering Trump's previously stated belief that not striking (or at least threatening to strike) would only result in North Korea getting stronger, the president's threats are much less surprising than they may have seemed at first glance.