A couple of months ago, Donald Trump delivered remarks at a closed-door fundraiser in Missouri, where he whined about, among other things, U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. In fact, as the Washington Post reported, the Republican president suggested he might abandon military support for our ally unless South Korea satisfies his demands on trade.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump said. “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.” He added, “Our allies care about themselves. They don’t care about us.”
Putting aside his factual errors – we don’t actually “lose money” on trade with South Korea – it was bizarre to hear an American president threaten to pull security support for a longtime American ally. All of this seems relevant anew in light of NBC News’ reporting on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and his difficult interactions with his boss in the Oval Office.
[Kelly[ has also pushed back against the president on some foreign policy and military issues, current and former White House officials said.
In one heated exchange between the two men before February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kelly strongly – and successfully – dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, according to two officials.
Regular readers know I’ve long marveled at Trump’s antagonism toward South Korea, but NBC News’ report takes these concerns to a whole new level.
Let’s also not forget the larger context. North Korea would be delighted if American troops were no longer on the peninsula, and the American president seems surprisingly eager to make Kim Jong-un happy.
Trump has praised the North Korean dictator’s intelligence and honor. Trump agreed, with little forethought or planning, to meet Kim Jong-un for bilateral talks, delivering one of North Korea’s long-sought goals. Trump has apparently even considered removing troops from South Korea.
Let’s not discount the possibility that the American president is even worse at deal-making than many of his critics fear.