North Korea may have been the one issue on which President Donald Trump apparently listened to his predecessor, Barack Obama, when he warned about the serious challenge facing the incoming occupant of the Oval Office. Nevertheless, Trump initially drove tensions between the two countries to a fever pitch, raising fears of war in the midst of proclamations of “fire and fury.” Then he played statesman and turned toward diplomacy, meeting North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore.
Today that effort looks kaput. The North has declared denuclearization to be off the table. Actually, few people other than the president apparently believed that Kim was prepared to turn over his nuclear weapons to a government predisposed toward intervention and regime change.
Now that this Trump policy is formally dead, and there is no Plan B in sight, Pyongyang has begun deploying choice terms from its fabled thesaurus of insults. Democrats are sure to denounce the administration for incompetent naivete. And the bipartisan war party soon will be beating the drums for more sanctions, more florid rhetoric, additional military deployments, new plans for war. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) already has dismissed the risks since any conflict would be “over there,” on the distant Korean Peninsula. At which point Trump’s heroic summitry, which offered a dramatic opportunity to break decades of deadly stalemate, will be judged a failure.
If the president had racked up several successes—wars ended, peace achieved, disputes settled, relations strengthened—then one disappointment wouldn’t matter much. However, his record is an unbroken string of broken promises, opportunities squandered, principles violated, and intentions abandoned.
There is no relationship more important than that between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Despite Trump’s supposed friendship with China’s Xi Jinping, the trade war rages to the detriment of both countries. Americans have suffered from both the president’s tariffs and China’s retaliation, with no end in sight. Despite hopes for a resolution, Beijing is hanging tough and obviously doubts the president’s toughness, given the rapidly approaching election.