Throughout the campaign and his presidency many have questioned Trump’s readiness to deal with an inevitable international crisis. It is clear today that those concerns are absolutely justified. Never has there been a president less experienced and less willing to learn than the narcissistic and temperamentally immature Donald J. Trump. His ill-advised, blustery remarks in response to the North Korean leader’s threats should give even his most fervent supporters pause. It is a fact that the first and foremost responsibility of the president is to maintain the safety and security of the American people. While many presidents have confronted a learning curve when faced with such a challenge, none has been as steep as the curve faced by this president.
The last thing that President Obama said to President-elect Trump at their White House meeting was that North Korea was going to be a major issue. To be sure, neither Obama nor Bush before him had successfully dealt with this threat and Obama viewed it as something that Trump needed to be aware of and plan for. Because the Korean leader is young, inexperienced and very unpredictable it would seem prudent to plan and be prepared for any eventuality. Though his nuclear program has progressed significantly more quickly than expected, it is reasonable to expect that our government should be prepared to deal with this fact in a purposeful and professional manner. There are, after all, experts available to help to assess the situation and develop measured actions designed to elicit specific responses. Yet, while our successful diplomatic efforts at the UN this past week reflected that kind of government response, the President’s bellicose pronouncements on Tuesday reflected the exact opposite. The disparity between these two actions is of great concern. One threatens imminent military action, while the other utilizes diplomatic and economic tools to tighten sanctions against this wayward regime. Which will the Korean leader likely react most harshly to?
Most of us recognize something that is obviously not understood by the president. In order for the North Korean leader and his father and grandfather before him to maintain power, and strict obedience of the people, there has to be a credible and existential external threat. The United States has served that purpose for decades. Trump’s comments on Tuesday afternoon simply fed that perception and provided the continued rationale for the development of a nuclear capability. The world isn’t a playground. It is a dangerous place. Therefore, our government’s foreign policy must be carefully considered, consistent and clear. When there is inconsistency it leaves allies and adversaries alike confused. When our policy lacks clarity and consensus it invites misinterpretation and unforeseen reaction. The Hotline between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War was created precisely to prevent such misinterpretation of words or deeds. This extraordinary communications vehicle was created despite the fact that we had hundreds of Russian experts and a long history of diplomatic communication between our two countries. Today, we are dealing with a dangerously depleted State Department, few avenues for direct communication and less real knowledge of this very dangerous adversary. The chance for miscalculation on either side is very substantial.
The challenges that we and our allies are confronting with North Korea require knowledgeable and mature leadership. As a nation and a world community we find ourselves with a president that has displayed neither of these vital characteristics. We can hope that cooler and more experienced heads on the National Security Team will prevail and help to make sure that we move through this crisis with success. However, if the past is predicate to the future we can expect that Trump will not listen to or take the advice of those around him, nor will he limit his own actions in deference to their superior knowledge and experience. There are those who explain Trump’s outburst on Tuesday as some kind of grand strategy to show the Korean leader that we can be tough and are willing to destroy his nation. I don’t believe that for a minute. I am afraid that it was simply an improvised statement with no forethought. In other words it was simply Trump being Trump. Unfortunately he is just proving all of us right.