After North Korea recently tested several short-range ballistic missiles, Donald Trump said in his initial response that he was “not happy.” Speaking with reporters during a multi-day visit to Japan, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton went further, saying there’s “no doubt” the North Korean missile launches violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Those remarks brought the Trump administration in line with a similar assessment from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At least it did – right up until the American president said the opposite during a press conference yesterday in Tokyo alongside his host.
In response to a reporter’s question about Kim Jong-un’s recent actions, Trump’s answer meandered a while and culminated in a criticisms of the Obama administration. “I am very happy with the way it’s going,” the Republican said of his diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang, “and intelligent people agree with me.” It led to this exchange:
Q: You’re not bothered at all by the small missiles?
TRUMP: No, I’m not. I am personally not.
The American president went on to say, “Kim Jong-un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low-IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that. But, at the same time, my people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently. I view it as a man – perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.”
Pretending reality doesn’t exist, the Republican also said, “There have been no ballistic missiles going out,” which is only true if one overlooks the ballistic missiles North Korea recently launched, and which the American president initially said he didn’t like.
The rogue dictator, Trump added, “is a very smart man.”
On the international stage, North Korea has gone out of its way to isolate itself. For some reason, Trump seems eager to do something similar – even if that means positioning himself against the conclusions of U.S. allies and his own White House team.
As is often the case, the Republican went a little further on Twitter, writing, “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
I’m not altogether sure what kind of “signal” Trump may have been referring to, but in a single tweet, the American president managed to contradict his own team, express indifference to missile launches he used to care about, and tout a rogue enemy’s condemnation of a leader from his own country.
Oh, and he managed to misspell “Biden,” too.
Stepping back, let’s also not brush past the larger political context: against a backdrop in which Trump has faced years of scandal about cooperating with a foreign adversary to advance his election prospects, the president thought it’d be a good idea to embrace North Korea’s condemnations of the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
Imagine what the reaction might look like if the Iranian government admonished Trump, and Biden started running around telling everyone how much he agreed with Tehran’s assessment.