For reasons that still aren't altogether clear, Donald Trump published a curious tweet about U.S. foreign policy this week that raised a few eyebrows:
"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"
The American president, you'll recall, was originally convinced that he should blame Beijing for North Korea's provocations, and that China could easily get Kim Jong-un and his regime under control if it wanted to. In April, however, Trump said he had a conversation with China's Xi Jinping about the geopolitical challenge.
"After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy," Trump conceded. "I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power" over North Korea, he said. "But it's not what you would think."
The result was a clumsy sort of policy in which Trump, relying largely on his perceived bond with the Chinese president, would wait for Beijing to rein North Korea in. That never happened. In fact, by all appearances, Xi Jinping briefly humored Trump, before largely ignoring the American president's appeals and continuing with the same policy China has maintained for years.
Trump may feel inclined to declare, "At least I know China tried!" but in reality, that didn't happen. Whether Trump knows and/or understands any of this is unclear. (In China, Trump has already been the target of mockery and ridicule following a series of embarrassing reversals.)
But what I'm concerned about is what happens now.
Trump's tweet suggests the president now believes existing U.S. policy "has not worked out," which in practical terms, suggests the administration is prepared to adopt a new policy. In the wake of Otto Warmbier's death, that posture is likely to be quite aggressive.
Slate's Fred Kaplan took a look at what may come next.
Some see Trump's fatalistic final words -- "At least I know China tried!" -- as a signal that the United States will now take over. After all, in an interview with the Financial Times shortly before his April meeting with Xi, Trump said, "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will." How does he plan to do that?It's a good bet that Trump has by now asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis for military options "to solve North Korea." The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reams of such options, which they update periodically, for all kinds of contingencies, including this one. No doubt Mattis will eloquently brief these options to the president, if he hasn't done so already, along with the myriad reasons why none of the options is likely to end well.
I shudder to think what the next presidential tweet on the subject might say.