U.S. President Donald Trump gets a briefing before he tours the pre-commissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding facilities in Newport News, Virginia, U.S. on March 2, 2017.
JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

Trump picks a pointless fight with a key ally at the wrong time

Updated
Donald Trump had already taken unnecessary steps to alienate South Korea, a key U.S. ally. The American president said he’d already dispatched an “armada,” led by an aircraft carrier, towards the peninsula, when in reality, he hadn’t. Trump added insult to injury by declaring, falsely, that the Korean Peninsula “used to be a part of China.”

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For reasons that don’t appear to make any sense, Trump is apparently trying to make matters worse. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump threatened to terminate the U.S. trade agreement with South Korea in an interview Thursday night, declaring that the five-year-old accord with a key ally was “a horrible deal” that has left America “destroyed.”

During an Oval Office interview about trade policy in North America, Trump served notice that he is looking to disrupt an important partnership in the tumultuous Asia-Pacific region as well — even with Seoul on edge because of North Korea’s escalating military provocations.
For the record, there’s no reason to believe the American president has any idea what’s in the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as Korus. It’s far more likely Trump simply assumes that any trade deal, practically by definition, must reflexively be rejected, unless he’s helped negotiate its terms. (It’s also quite possible that he’ll announce today that “it turns out” he actually likes the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement after having a brief conversation with someone who tells him he should support it.)

Regardless, Trump didn’t stop there. The president went on to say he wants to deploy a missile-defense system – Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (Thaad) – in South Korea to help protect against a North Korean attack,  but only if South Korea pays for the technology.

“”On the THAAD system, it’s about a billion dollars,” Trump explained to Reuters. “I said, ‘Why are we paying? Why are we paying a billion dollars? We’re protecting. Why are we paying a billion dollars?’ So I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid.”

All of this is completely bonkers. Against the backdrop of a possible nuclear crisis with North Korea, Donald J. Trump has decided it’d be wise to antagonize our allies in South Korea – again.

Complicating matters, let’s also not forget that South Korea’s presidential election is less than two weeks away, and Trump’s bizarre antics mean that South Korean candidates will, for purely domestic reasons, have no choice but to condemn the White House’s pointless posturing.

As a consequence, no matter who wins the South Korean election, the next president of the country will begin his or her term with some hostility towards the United States – all because Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about – despite the fact that South Korea and the United States are supposed to be strong allies.

When making a list of American friends that Trump has gone out of his way to alienate, we have a new contender for the top slot.

Donald Trump, Foreign Policy and South Korea

Trump picks a pointless fight with a key ally at the wrong time

Updated