The Cancelled Summit and the Trump Administration’s Foreign Policy Dysfunction
Trump’s decision to cancel the summit with North Korea was arguably better than going through with it at this point, but he managed to do it in the most ham-fisted and insulting way possible. For starters, Congressional leadership and U.S. regional allies were neither consulted nor informed before the cancellation was made public:
The decision occurred so abruptly that the administration was unable to give congressional leaders and key allies advance notice and the letter went out while more than two dozen foreign journalists, including several U.S. citizens, were inside North Korea where they had gone to witness a promised dismantling of a nuclear test site.
Trump has done an abysmal job of managing the relationship with South Korea over the last sixteen months, so it isn’t really surprising that he would fail to alert the ally that has the most at stake in this process. Nonetheless, it is a sign of how impulsively and carelessly the decision was made that Trump did not even bother to give allied governments a heads-up that he was about to make a drastic and unexpected change that affects them. Basic respect for our diplomatic partners and allies dictated that the U.S. should have coordinated its actions with South Korea, if only to spare them the embarrassment of having to find out about it from the press, but of course Trump couldn’t be bothered with that.
The decision to cancel also shows just how influential Bolton has become with the president in just the last six weeks. Administration officials say that Bolton was the one who did the most to persuade Trump to cancel:
Several administration officials said Pompeo, who has taken the lead in negotiating with the North Koreans, blamed Bolton for torpedoing the progress that had already been made. Pompeo flew to Pyongyang twice, met personally with Kim and helped secure the release of three Americans who had been held there. Bolton, a longtime national security hawk who has publicly advocated for regime change in North Korea, was integral, these officials said, to convincing Trump to back out of the summit.
It is also clear from the sequence of events that Bolton was responsible for the rhetoric that ended up sinking the meeting. Ankit Panda explains:
There’s a clear line here: Bolton’s Libya talk sets expectations for Trump, who slips up and threatens North Korea with regime change, which leads to Pence defending Trump, which leads to North Korea lashing out, which leads to Trump canceling the summit. The dysfunction within this administration in the lead-up to this meeting ultimately brought the summit crashing down.
That same dysfunction is why it is better that the Trump administration has backed out of the meeting. If Trump and his officials were this clumsy and destructive in the run-up to the summit, we can only guess how much worse things could have been during the negotiations.