The promotion of democracy and human rights around the world has always been an important priority of U.S. foreign policy. But in the last two years, our priorities and responses to the behavior of other nations have not reflected these values. As a result, our role in the world has been weakened, and some of our allies have decided to go their own way, especially on issues of trade and security.
The current administration bends over backward for dictators like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, our friends and allies are criticized, treaty agreements are abandoned, and tariffs imposed.
We take the word of our enemies over our intelligence agencies and common sense. When North Korean leader Kim tells the President of the United States that he did not know about the poor treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier in a North Korean prison, Trump stated, “I will take him at his word.” Trump takes the word of one of the worst despots in the world while viewing the advice of his own intelligence agencies skeptically.
American intelligence agencies recently announced that North Korea was rebuilding a nuclear testing site it had reported dismantled during negotiations with Trump. CNN’s Kevin Liptak reported, “Had Trump been more aware of the tortuous history of US-North Korea negotiations, he might have concluded that Kim was behaving exactly to type.”
Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on North Korea in response to trade violations with two Chinese shipping companies. The next day, Trump canceled the sanctions by tweet to the surprise of his national security team. As stated by Samantha Vinograd, a National Security Council member under Democratic and Republican presidents, “This was just the latest example of Trump publicly undercutting his own team — including the intelligence experts that helped prepare the sanctions designation packages.”
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When White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked why Trump changed his mind about the sanctions, she stated that “President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.” Really? He “likes” Kim? Can anyone imagine the outrage if former President Barack Obama said that he liked one of the world’s most notorious dictators? But Trump doesn’t just like Kim; Trump said that Kim sent him “beautiful letters” and that “we fell in love.”
Kim is not the only one who has Trump’s trust. When Putin tells Trump that he didn’t try to interfere with our 2016 elections, Trump believes him. When the evidence points to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as the mastermind behind the execution of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump says that he believes the Crown Prince’s denials and protects him from U.S. sanctions. Trump is either awkwardly attracted to these guys or very afraid of them.
As stated by Vinograd, “there’s a growing perception that the president’s foreign policy is defined by a set of double standards towards despotic rulers. Whether this is because he's distracted and unable to articulate a consistent approach or because some of these dictators know how to butter him up, the president's approach to nuclear weapons, humanitarian crises, and the legitimacy of world leaders is wildly inconsistent.”
Vinograd points to the difference between how Trump responds to disarmament and nonproliferation issues with Iran compared to North Korea. For Iran, Trump dumped the nuclear agreement despite the fact that Iran is upholding their side of the agreement and is not known to have nuclear weapons. For North Korea, which has a nuclear stockpile, Trump is forgiving and “permissive” as Vinograd notes. Regardless of the lack of progress in stopping Kim from developing his nuclear capacity, Trump has granted him two presidential meetings on the world stage. Meanwhile, he refuses to join our allies and recognizing the success of the Iranian nuclear deal.
Trump shows another double standard with how he has treated Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro. The president wants Maduro out of power, he says, because of the poverty, hunger, and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Yet, in North Korea, where a more significant humanitarian crisis has existed for decades — Kim spends his nation’s resources on weapons instead of food for his people —Trump sings a different tune.
While the rest of the world spent last weekend mourning the massacre of Muslim worshipers in New Zealand, Trump spent the weekend posting 50 tweets and re-tweets attacking former Sen. John McCain, the Russia investigation, “Saturday Night Live,” a union leader in Ohio, General Motors, Fox News anchors, and more.
Maybe he should start reading his briefing papers, instead.