U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Pool

Trump’s latest secret plan: dealing with North Korea without China

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump assured voters he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS, which he’d only share after the election. It turned out to be a rather weak con: once in office, the president asked U.S. military leaders to come with a plan for him, and they came back with a strategy that looks an awful lot like Barack Obama’s plan.

But Trump’s affinity for secret plans hasn’t faded. The Republican president sat down with the Financial Times over the weekend, and the exchange on North Korea seemed especially noteworthy.
FT: How ambitious do you want to be with China? Could we see a grand bargain that solves North Korea, takes American troops off the Korean peninsula and really changes the landscape out there?

TRUMP: Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.

FT: And do you think you can solve it without China’s help?

TRUMP: Totally.

FT: One on one?

TRUMP: I don’t have to say any more. Totally.
When the Financial Times pressed further, the president replied, “I’m not going to tell you.”

Given Trump’s unfortunate track record, this didn’t exactly inspire confidence. But given the rest of the interview, it’s just the tip of a deeply strange iceberg.

* Reminded that he uses “more abrasive” language than most American presidents, Trump responded, “I hope so.” Asked if it’s a point of pride, Trump added, “Well it hasn’t worked for our predecessors. Look where we are.”

* Trump again lied about opposing the war in Iraq from the outset. He added that his bogus claim “finally has been proven,” which appears to refer to evidence that doesn’t exist in reality.

* The Financial Times noted much of the world “can’t quite work out” whether “this is the most brilliant softening-up exercise, or whether you want to fundamentally change the postwar liberal order.” Trump responded, “This isn’t an exercise. This is a very, very serious problem that we have in the world today. And we have more than one but this is no exercise. This is not just … talk. The United States has talked long enough and you see where it gets us, it gets us nowhere.”

* Moments later, told that the world is “frightened” by the prospect of a White House that doesn’t see value in international alliances, Trump said, “Alliances have not always worked out very well for us. But I do believe in alliances. I believe in relationships. And I believe in partnerships. But alliances have not always worked out very well for us. OK?” He offered no specific examples of U.S. alliances that haven’t “worked out” for us.

* Referring to his tweets, Trump said his conspiracy theory about Obama conducting illegal surveillance of him before the election is “turning out to be true.” It’s not turning out to be true.

* Trump falsely boasted, “I predicted Brexit.” In reality, asked about Brexit before the vote in the U.K., Trump actually said, “I don’t think anybody should listen to me because I haven’t really focused on it very much.”

* Trump again took credit for jobs announced during the Obama administration.

* Asked about Le Pen’s chances in France’s upcoming election, Trump said he doesn’t know her, adding, “It’s going to be a very interesting election. But you know some outside things have happened that maybe will change the course of that race.” In this case, “outside things” may refer to Russia’s suspected intervention in the French race.

Under normal political circumstances, an interview like this would be seen as a disaster for a president. In a relatively brief interview, Trump appeared dishonest, ignorant, and petulant, which would ordinarily cause serious headaches for a White House.

But given Trump’s existing reputation, and the expectations that all of the president’s interviews will make him appear painfully foolish, I suspect this one may not cause much of a stir.