There's a reason for the wise old admonishment that domestic politics should "stop at the water's edge." Whatever disagreements Americans have with one another, there has always been an understanding that during foreign engagements, U.S. politicians must present a united front. President Donald Trump apparently still hasn't gotten that memo.
Trump used the world spotlight during his weekend trip to Japan to, once again, ignore the counsel of his top advisers and heap praise on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. He used the same spotlight to denigrate fellow American Joe Biden, joining in Kim's mockery of the former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate.
When Trump is abroad, he doesn't represent his base, or his party, or his own reelection campaign. He represents the United States, and he should limit his pronouncements to those that reflect this country's best interests.
Trump is heavily invested politically in his ongoing denuclearization talks with North Korea — so invested, apparently, that he fails to see that Kim has repeatedly broken his word. This should come as no surprise; Kim, in addition to running an authoritarian rogue state, has a long history of reneging on his promises to the rest of the world.
There's little debate that North Korea's recent ballistic missile tests violate a Security Council resolution. Trump's own national security adviser, John Bolton, said so on Saturday. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Monday, during his joint press conference with Trump.
Yet Trump, sitting just feet from Abe, contradicted a close U.S. ally and his own experts — and the plain facts — by taking Kim's side. "My people think it could have been a violation. I view it differently," Trump said.
It was reminiscent of Trump's disgraceful performance last year in Helsinki, where, sharing a stage with Vladimir Putin, he took the Russian leader's side against U.S. intelligence officials on the issue of election meddling.
Equally disturbing was Trump's support for Kim's attack on Biden. After Biden correctly referred to Kim as a tyrant, North Korea's official news agency called Biden a "fool of low IQ." Name-calling between foreign adversaries is one thing, but Trump's gleeful repeating (both on Twitter and on stage in Japan) of Pyongyang's trashing of an American political leader was way out of bounds.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a military veteran, got it exactly right when he tweeted to Trump: "It's Memorial Day Weekend and you're taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator. This is just plain wrong."
He might have added that this particular dictator leads a country against which Americans fought and died in the last century. Many veterans of the Korean War are still with us. How must it have looked to them, watching their president cozying up to Kim while denigrating a fellow American?
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH