Two weeks ago, Donald Trump acted as if he’d effectively intimidated North Korea into submission. It wasn’t long, however, before the American president’s boasts appeared unwise: Kim Jong-un’s regime has responded with a series of highly provocative missile tests, including North Korea’s largest ever nuclear test explosion over the weekend.It’s against this backdrop that Trump is going on the offensive … against South Korea. The Republican whined over the weekend about our longtime ally’s attempts at “appeasement” – a shot that was widely reported in South Korean media – and while he spoke twice on Sunday to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday, Trump did not speak to Moon Jae-in until Monday.
The Washington Post reported that South Koreans are still coming to terms with how “different” this American leader really is.
“They think they’re dealing with an unreasonable partner and complaining about it isn’t going to help – in fact, it might make it worse,” said David Straub, a former State Department official who dealt with both Koreas and recently published a book about anti-Americanism in South Korea.
“Opinion polls show South Koreans have one of the lowest rates of regard for Trump in the world and they don’t consider him to be a reasonable person,” Straub said. “In fact, they worry he’s kind of nuts, but they still want the alliance.”
And though Trump’s only been in office for seven months, he’s already given our South Korean allies plenty of reasons to worry about his approach to our partnership.
The trouble started in earnest in April, when Trump lied about dispatching military resources to the Korean peninsula. As regular readers may recall, when Trump falsely said the Korean peninsula “used to be a part of China,” that didn’t go over especially well, either.
When Trump said South Korea would have to pay us to deploy a missile-defense system – comments White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster quickly had to walk back – conditions deteriorated further. When Trump started publicly praising Kim Jong-un, many in South Korea were left “bewildered.”
Now, in response to the growing North Korea security threat, the White House has leaked word that Trump wants to scrap the existing trade deal between the United States and South Korea – an agreement the American president has complained about for months, despite the fact that he doesn’t appear to have any idea what the trade deal is or why he doesn’t like it.
Presumably, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea could help address the diplomatic mess the president has created, but so far, Trump hasn’t nominated a U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
Keep in mind, just as Vladimir Putin was delighted to see Trump alienate NATO members and create a rift between the United States and Europe, Kim Jong-un has every reason to celebrate the American president’s willingness to undermine the friendship between the United States and South Korea.
It’s a curious strategy: Trump is making our enemies happy and our allies nervous. Most U.S. leaders prefer the opposite, but Trump is blazing his own ridiculous trail.