Trump’s second big concession, however, was announced immediately after the summit ended: the president was scrapping joint military exercises with our South Korean allies, to North Korea’s delight, also in exchange for practically nothing.
It was a difficult decision to defend. After all, the United States military has been participating in these joint exercises for decades. Making matters worse, Trump made the announcement without notifying our partners in South Korea, who were blindsided by the American leader’s decision, or the Pentagon, where officials had no idea what the Republican president was talking about.
So why in the world would Trump do this? His first stated reason was that canceling the military exercises would save us money, which isn’t altogether true, and which is an argument officials from both parties found bizarre. Trump also argued that the exercises were overtly “provocative” – which represented an exceedingly rare instance in which an American president echoed the talking points of North Korea’s communist dictatorship.
But to fully appreciate the oddity of the circumstances, it’s worth understanding where Trump apparently got this idea in the first place. The Wall Street Journal reported in January:
Around the same time, Mr. Trump had an idea about how to counter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, which he got after speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin: If the U.S. stopped joint military exercises with the South Koreans, it could help moderate Kim Jong Un’s behavior…. Mr. Trump dropped the idea, although he has ordered aides to give the exercises a low profile, eliminating press releases and briefings about them.
In context, “around the same time” refers to the period last summer after Trump met with Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg.
What we’re left with is an awkward dynamic: one of the most controversial foreign policy decisions of Trump’s presidency, which is a highly unusual concession to an American enemy in exchange for nothing, appears to have originated with the Russian president who orchestrated an attack on the United States a year earlier.
In normal political times, wouldn’t this generate a congressional hearing or two?
* Update: The headline for this post has been edited for clarity.