- - Monday, August 14, 2017

“Experience is the teacher of all things,” said Julius Caesar. The mighty ruler of Rome would know, but considering the ancient emperor’s pointed encounter with sharp knives some things can be better learned through observation at a safe distance.

The “Democratic People’s Republic” of North Korea, newly nuclear-armed or not, risks taking a painful swat for playing the bee buzzing in Donald Trump’s ear. Iran and perhaps Venezuela are surely taking notes on how to harass the United States when their opportunity arrives, just as North Korea took notes on how far it would push Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. It’s essential now that the communist regime in Pyongyang understands that nothing can be gained from playing the rogue.

Kim Jong-un crossed a line last week when his nuclear scientists succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit atop his stock of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The revelation, not unexpected but still jarring, is what led President Trump to warn that the North “will be met with fire and fury” if Mr. Kim makes a move to unleash his weapons on America. The word that Mr. Kim plans by mid-August to bracket Guam, the U.S. island in the South Pacific, with his missiles invited flights over the Korean peninsula by U.S. bombers, escorted by Japanese and South Korea fighters, as an illustration of what an approaching response might look like.

Saber-rattling is a venerable tool of martial gamesmanship, but it’s clear that President Trump is changing the rules, with stern talk in language familiar to Mr. Kim that tells him there’s a limit to patience. It’s a response that President Obama was never up to making, with North Korea, Iran, Syria or any other despotic regime. Over the previous century, the United States learned to live with the Russian bomb and those of other adversaries because, unlike Pyongyang, those adversaries never vowed to incinerate American cities. The president was doing what presidents are expected to do.

His tough words have invited tsk-tsking from the usual chorus at the State Department and the United Nations, but those words might widen eyes in Beijing, where the key to controlling Mr. Kim resides. China has used North Korea as a buffer against a strong U.S. presence in South Korea and Japan, but China is awakening to the prospect that its reckless neighbor is blocking its climb toward prosperity.

Everyone is counting on Mr. Trump to order land- and sea-based missile defense systems in the western Pacific to shoot down anything North Korea shoots at Guam. Now with credible evidence that Mr. Kim has functional nuclear missiles, the United States must err on the side of caution and assume any incoming rocket is lethal.

The president must reconsider his proposal to cut $340 million from missile defense programs in his fiscal 2018 budget. Considering the threat from North Korea, it’s clear that the United States needs more protection from sophisticated missiles, not less.

Like two perfidious peas in a pod, North Korea and Iran are sharing their deadly nuclear secrets. There’s reason to believe that when Mr. Obama’s foolish nuclear deal with the Islamic regime expires in a decade, the mullahs are likely to follow Kim Jong-un’s reckless example. It’s essential that Mr. Trump use America’s missile defense to full effect now and to demonstrate that nuclear threats against the world’s pre-eminent superpower cannot succeed. “Millions for defense,” Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, an early minister to France, is credited with saying, “and not one damned penny for tribute.” A necessary sentiment for our times.

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