On Saturday, White House national security adviser and longtime war enthusiast John Bolton became the first Trump administration official to acknowledge — let alone forcefully — that North Korea had violated UN sanctions when it recently staged a attention-seeking missile test. The national security adviser’s comments, made on the first day of the president’s trip to Japan, seemed to signal U.S. displeasure with North Korea’s latest act of aggression amid the two countries’ hopelessly stalled denuclearization negotiations — or at least they would have been, if he were not John Bolton and a member of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Hours later, Trump responded on Twitter to signal that if he had to choose between Kim Jong-un and his adviser with the prominent mustache — he’s going with the militaristic provocateur who has earned him better press (and shares his love of ridiculing political opponents with childish insults).
Tweeting from the region most concerned about North Korea’s love of ballistic missile tests, Trump asserted that he, the president, was totally cool with what happened. Downplaying the tests as though they were just some kids shooting off fireworks, Trump noted that “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me.”
The president, who has staked the entire peace process with North Korea on his personal relationship with Kim, explained that he still has confidence in Kim as a peace partner, while additionally appreciating Kim’s mutual love of ranking on a certain former vice president and would-be Trump challenger.
“Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?” Trump wrote, later correcting the misspelling.
The president was embellishing a North Korean state media report which said Biden was “a low IQ idiot” in response to Biden calling Kim Jong-un a “thug” at a campaign event. And if the intent of copying an insult Trump has often used was to get the president’s attention, North Korea seems to have found an alternative to missile tests. Now that Trump has celebrated the attack as a successful diplomatic entreaty, other foreign regimes could try to flatter Trump by insulting Democratic presidential candidates too.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, shrugged off the president’s endorsement of a foreign dictator’s attack on a former vice president, saying that she thinks Trump and Kim “agree in their assessment” of Biden. She wasn’t the only Republican who was challenged to defend the tweet by an indignant news anchor on Sunday, either.
Then again, what’s another norm in the wood chipper of this reality television presidency? Trump’s outrageousness is his political brand, and he will never care about decorum, statesmanship, or the consequences of America’s president openly admiring every foreign strongman in the world. It also won’t matter to his voters, nor will the dysfunction of a White House where the national security adviser regularly makes what appear to be foreign policy pronouncements — when he’s really just mouthing off or trying to trip the president into a war with one of at least three separate countries.
President Trump is holding out hope that Kim Jong-un will, by some miracle, help him win a Nobel peace prize — or at the very least not embarrass him with election season approaching. John Bolton is performing his vision of what a real hawk’s U.S. foreign policy should look like — at least until Trump inevitably fires him and White House advisers leak whatever mustache-focused nickname the president had used for him behind his back. And Kim Jong-un, who is the actual madman of the trio by pre-Trump-era standards, probably doesn’t have a clue what is going on anymore — a nuclear-armed despot who is forced to guess.
The U.S. used to have foreign policies. Now it just has Trump, his talking heads, and all the foreign leaders who have figured out how to exchange compliments — or Democrat-targeting insults — for concessions.