Now comes the scary part of the story, the part where the shortcomings of bluster as a foreign policy begin to make themselves known. This is also the part in which the bumbling amateurism already displayed by the Trump administration on every aspect of domestic policy gets translated onto the global stage as well, and at a critical moment.
I’m sure it will go well. Aren’t you?
Let’s start in Asia. On the eve of an already difficult summit between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, our friends in North Korea have fired a medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, just as a reminder of their presence. Trump had already announced that if China is not willing to commit in these talks to major action to contain North Korea, the United States will move to solve the problem on its own, with “all options on the table.”
Meanwhile, in Syria, the Trump administration has publicly signaled a major change in U.S. policy by announcing that it no longer seeks regime change and is willing to accept Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule as president of that tragic land. Three days later, Assad rewarded that new U.S. approach by launching a brutal nerve-gas attack on civilian targets in his own country, which is a clear international war crime.
1.) Shortly after reading aloud that condemnation of “weakness and irresolution” by the previous administration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged that yes, the Trump administration still backs Assad as president of Syria and still rejects regime change as a goal of U.S. policy. “There is not a fundamental option of regime change as there has been in the past,” Spicer said. “I think we would look like, to some degree, rather silly not acknowledging the political realities that exist in Syria.”
2.) In September of 2013, as President Obama was deciding whether to use military force in Syria against Assad for earlier use of WMD, a private citizen by the name of Donald Trump made his own opinion known:
A few weeks ago, as you may recall, Trump announced to the world that health care “is an unbelievably complex subject,” that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Well, health care is indeed a complex issue that has a significant impact on the lives of millions of people, but compared to problems such as Syria and North Korea, it is simple and straightforward.
In North Korea, for example, economic sanctions and other “non-kinetic” options have been implemented by every U.S. president since the days of Jimmy Carter, to little or no effect on the regime. But any thought of military action has to be weighed against the grim reality of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the presence of the world’s largest concentration of artillery along its border with South Korea, within easy reach of Seoul, a city of 10 million. Almost 30,000 U.S. military personnel are also stationed in South Korea.
If a confrontation between two stable, mature leaders such as Trump and Kim Jong-un should get out of hand, within days the death toll could be counted in the millions. And by warning ominously that the United States will soon resolve the North Korea matter on its own, with all options on the table, Trump has more or less established a red line of his own on the Korean Peninsula.
In ordinary times, the leaders of China and the United States would emerge from this upcoming summit with a reassuring pledge to work together to tamp down tensions with North Korea, even if the actions agreed upon by China don’t amount to much. But by upping the ante so high, Trump and his crack team of presidential advisers have made that kind of outcome more difficult to achieve and sell.
Then again, I’m sure they’ve thought all of that through and know exactly what they’re doing.