North Korea has wanted a direct negotiation with every president since Eisenhower. On June 12, they got their wish and had a summit with President Trump, where he agreed to halt military exercises with our South Korean allies in return for literally nothing at all except a sheet of paper promising, at some undetermined time, to take undefined steps towards peace.
Donald Trump achieved what literally any other president could have, if they had simply said “yes” to whatever North Korea wanted. He now says it was “a great honor” to meet the “supreme leader” of North Korea, a country which starves its people, tortures its dissidents, brutally persecutes Christians and has the world’s most vicious forced labor camps — all of which Trump condemned in his 2018 State of the Union address, where he hailed the courage of a North Korean defector. None of that is going to change, but now we have “a terrific relationship” with the people who do that.
American foreign policy has always involved tolerating, and even working with, terrible people. I’d like to think we have some moral lines somewhere, but really the princes of Saudi Arabia and the mandarins of the Chinese Communist Party aren’t worthy to sit at the Statue of Liberty’s feet either.
We usually come to regret supporting terrible people — let us not forget that America supported both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden once upon a time — but we have to acknowledge that doing business with the scum of humanity is sometimes necessary to meet our foreign policy goals.
But we can demand that our president negotiate from a position of strength, and so far Donald Trump has been going out of his way to play the weakest hand of any modern American president.
He pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. If he’d stayed in, America would be at the head of the largest trading block in Asia. Trade there would have worked on our terms, and China and North Korea would be on the outside looking in. That’s incredible leverage.
Trump gave that up. Now our former trans-Pacific partners are doing it anyway, without us, and we’re on the outside looking in as they negotiate with China and North Korea, not really caring what our terms are.
If Trump had been willing to at least pretend to respect the European Union, we’d have the world’s largest trade bloc on our side when we try to apply economic pressure on North Korea, Iran, China, Russia and other rogue nations. And really, if he can say what a great honor it is to meet Kim Jong-Un and cozy up to him, why can’t me say nice things about Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron? They’re democratically elected leaders who don’t starve their populations or feed their political enemies and relatives to dogs.
But instead he’s starting a trade war with EU countries, and so the world knows we no longer have the backing of our once strongest allies when we enter trade negotiations.
If Trump had been willing to show support of NATO, then America would have continued to be the undisputed leader of the greatest military alliance the world has ever known. But he tried to shake down NATO members like a cheap gangster in a cheaper suit, even refusing to say that America would honor its commitment to defend other NATO members if they were attacked, and so now the world wonders if NATO would support us. That question emboldens every one of our enemies.
This keeps happening over and over again, and it diminishes us every time.
The idea that America can go it alone on the world stage ignores the simple fact that you are stronger when you have loyal friends who will make your fight theirs. America wasn’t just a member of the free world — we were its leader. And if that meant that sometimes we had to do some extra work, it also meant that we were the ones setting the standards and calling the shots for the most powerful military and trade alliances in history.
Now? We’re a nation that thinks it’s a great success to get North Korea to talk to us, when they should have been begging us to give them the time of day.
We are “honored” to get a few hours of North Korea’s time and get them to make vague and unverifiable promises not to hurt us. That’s how weak Donald Trump has made America.
Benjamin Wachs archives his work at www.FascinatingStranger.com. com. Email him at Benjamin@FascinatingStranger.com.