ANALYSIS: Trump bets on himself in showdown with North Korea

"Trump is gambling on his... instincts in a showdown with a rogue nuclear power"

With rhetoric that is literally incendiary -– the promise of “fire and fury,” repeated twice for effect -– the president is calculating that North Korea will change its behavior based on language the regime might recognize because it sounds so much like its own.

Tillerson said he doesn’t view any of this as a step closer to war: “Americans should sleep well at night,” he said while touching down for a refueling stop in Guam, an American territory the North Koreans are explicitly threatening with a possible attack.

But the actions are setting off alarms even among national security hawks. Kim Jong Un is an unpredictable actor, and the consequences of the wrong move are potentially dire and deadly.

The public seems to share such concerns. In a CBS News poll out this week, 61 percent of Americans said they were uneasy about Trump’s ability to handle the North Korean nuclear situation. That poll was taken before reports emerged indicating that US intelligence officials believe the regime has a nuclear warhead it can fit on its missiles.

Trump was elected on the promise of doing things radically differently. That included a vow not to tolerate the nuclear threats of an isolated, though quite dangerous, regime in North Korea.

The president plays political poker, not chess. He is probably bluffing. But with Trump -– as with his North Korean counterpart -– it’s not possible to know for sure. And this time, the stakes could not be higher.