Harry Kazianis previewed Trump’s Asia trip two weeks ago and was cautiously optimistic that it could be successful. I assumed it would be closer to a repeat of his first trip abroad. He returns today with a much grimmer assessment:
But the leader of the free world should have at least some idea of what is happening across the globe, and some policy strategy to match. Instead, what we saw during Trump’s tour of Asia was a series of incoherent rants, no vision or grand strategy for the future, and a strange bromance-style of foreign policy.
The notable thing about Trump’s “bromance-style” approach to foreign leaders is that he seems to think they are as impressed by his flattery as he is by theirs. The president’s chumminess with Xi, Duterte, or anyone else isn’t going to persuade them to make more concessions to the U.S., but foreign leaders have learned that it is fairly easy to buy Trump’s affection by putting on big displays and catering to his tastes when he visits. Obama was often faulted by pundits for not cultivating close personal relationships with foreign leaders, but Trump has gone to the opposite extreme by doing almost nothing but that. That causes him to be weirdly deferential to foreign leaders in a way that goes far beyond trying to maintain good relations.
I said last week that Trump’s North Korea policy is divorced from reality because of the insistence on denuclearization, and it is. Another problem is the president’s random personal jabs at Kim. His strange tweet near the end of the trip combined a gratuitous insult and an odd wish to be friends. Kazianis comments:
Fat? Friend? What? If you are confused by all that, you certainly aren’t alone. Every time I read it I get an instant headache.
But once again, Trump tried to walk it back, and only made matters worse, saying, “That might be a strange thing to happen [being friends with Kim] but it’s a possibility.” He continued, explaining: “If it did happen it could be a good thing I can tell you for North Korea, but it could also be good for a lot of other places and be good for the rest the world.”
Something like friendship shouldn’t even be a possibility when it comes to Kim Jong Un.
One problem with his exchanges with Kim is that Trump can’t ever let a personal slight go, so he always feels compelled to respond in kind. If the North Koreans make some disparaging remark about him, he can’t help but say something demeaning about Kim. Then he tries to limit the damage by talking about how he wants to be Kim’s “friend,” as if the main obstacle in dealing with Pyongyang was the lack of personal chemistry between the two leaders. Based on these remarks, one can almost imagine that Trump thinks that he, Kim, and Dennis Rodman could hammer out a peace treaty after spending a weekend together. The combination of the administration’s official position that denuclearization is the only option with Trump’s erratic messages to Kim naturally creates confusion among both allies and adversaries, and that increases the risk that one or more governments could misinterpret what the U.S. is doing.
Like his first trip abroad, Trump’s Asia trip was unsuccessful and marred by some significant mistakes. The president returns home this week with nothing to show for his effort.