President Donald Trump's impulsive and chaotic approach to foreign policy was again on display last week, this time regarding North Korea. Just hours after Trump's administration trumpeted stepped-up sanctions enforcement in connection with that rogue nation's nuclear program, Trump took to Twitter to announce he was reversing it — in language so sloppy that there was initially confusion about which sanctions he was talking about.
As with Trump's earlier, equally impulsive move to withdraw troops from Syria, it's a questionable policy shift executed with unquestionable amateurishness. This is no way to conduct foreign policy.
On March 21, the Treasury Department cited two shipping companies for attempted evasion of sanctions against North Korea, which the United States and other nations have imposed over its nuclear missile program. National security adviser John Bolton called it an "important" move.
The next day, Trump tweeted that he had ordered the "withdrawal" of "additional" sanctions that had been ordered "today" against North Korea. The tweet threw the diplomatic world into turmoil, in part because no one was initially sure which sanctions Trump meant.
There had, indeed, been sanctions imposed that day, against Iran and Venezuela, but the enforcement of existing sanctions on North Korea had been the day before. Did Trump get the day wrong, the country, or the sanctions themselves?
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders finally confirmed to reporters that Trump was indeed talking about North Korea. "President Trump likes Chairman Kim," she explained, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, "and he doesn't think these sanctions will be necessary."
For anyone who needs reminding of Trump's horrendous judgment of character, the president previously decided to overrule his own experts and reverse sanctions enforcement based on his warm feelings toward one of the most brutal dictators on earth. The decision roughly coincided with his renewed public belittling of the late war hero Sen. John McCain.
American military experts were similarly taken aback in December, when Trump abruptly announced a U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, without consulting his own generals. The announcement — which, like last week's, alarmed America's allies and delighted its adversaries — prompted high-profile resignations from the administration. All that, and Trump ended up partly reversing the Syria pullout in February.
In foreign policy as in so many other areas, Trump's massive ego and unwillingness or inability to learn has made for a problematic combination: He doesn't know what he doesn't know, and he refuses to listen to those who do.
As House Democrats ramp up the presidential oversight that Republicans refused to do when the GOP was in control, they should spotlight Trump's bizarre foreign affairs decision-making process. There are limits to what they can do about it, but calling attention to it might at least keep America and the world alerted to the danger his impulsiveness poses.
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