Trump Tests His Hawks’ Commitment
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Critics of the Republican Party’s hawkish wing should, instead, thank their lucky stars that President Trump’s current national-security team hails from those hawks.
Contra Trump, North Korea’s nuclear threat hasn’t vanished. True, Kim Jong-un suspended nuke and missile testing, but he’s yet to end his nuclear program’s progress. Pyongyang continues to develop the Yongbyon plutonium plant while enriching uranium for making bombs.
Yet didn’t Trump, after meeting with Kim in Singapore last month, say there’s “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea?” He seemed to believe the young dictator’s denuclearization intentions.
He shouldn’t. More than a sit-down will be needed to defang a regime that believes a nuclear arsenal is the key to its survival. And the Kims won’t suddenly care about the welfare of their people or welcome the outside world into the Hermit Kingdom.
Yet, Mr. Trump’s clearly enamored with the idea that summits with America’s adversaries are key to resolving problems, so next on the itinerary, later this month, is Vladimir Putin.
And after that? Many in Washington talk about trying to organize a Trump summit with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. How about Hamas, then? Bashar al-Assad? The Taliban? Anyone else?
That’s where the hawks come in. Duty calls.
Mr. Trump is surrounded by an impressive array of them: National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Pompeo and Ambassador Nikki Haley at the United Nations, to name a few. Their job will increasingly be to clean up if and when the boss makes unwarranted pledges while attending his favorite diplomatic venue.
Specifically, Mr..Trump tends to too easily discard America’s global military commitments.
Referring to the Kim summit, the president told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo that suspending “war games” — the annual joint naval exercises with allies like South Korea and Japan — will save us a lot of money.
Meanwhile, how to end the Syrian war will be high on the Putin summit’s agenda. Mr. Trump’s priority should be to prevent Iran from setting up a permanent presence there. Yet he wants American forces out of Syria, now that ISIS is mostly defeated. Keeping them there, see, costs us a lot of money.
If cost is the only factor, though, should America keep patrolling the Pacific, defending freedom of navigation there from China’s aggression? That’s an expensive endeavor (though arguably cheaper than not doing it).
Speaking of which, sooner or later Mr. Trump will summit with China’s president, Xi Jinping — who, by the way, is fast escalating a campaign to dominate his neighborhood.
China is forcing foreign airlines to refer to their routes to Taiwan as if it’s part of China. Most airlines have already complied, with the glaring exception of American carriers. Will Mr. Trump throw our Taipei allies under the bus?
Not if it’s up to Mr. Bolton, a long-time fierce Taiwan defender.
Mr. Bolton’s in a tough spot. As a Russia hawk, he’d frequently said that Mr. Putin, a former KGB spy, can’t be trusted. Mr. Bolton also said Russia clearly interfered in the 2016 election. Yet, without taking back any of it, the national-security adviser sat down with Mr. Putin last week. And Mr. Putin told Mr. Bolton there was no interference in the election.
That was an “interesting statement; I think it’s worth pursuing,” Mr. Bolton told CBS on Sunday.
He’s working for a boss who’s enamored with summitry and all that comes with it, so Mr. Bolton says it’d be useful for “just the two of them [Messrs. Trump and Putin] to go over what’s on their mind about a whole range of issues.”
Mr. Bolton’s job, and that of Mrs. Haley, Mr. Pompeo and others, will increasingly be to instill much-needed skepticism in the president’s mind. Mr. Trump has an unusual way of dealing with people and, with the right preparation, he can be quite effective. But when he gets out over his skis, as he often does, the president needs to ever so gently be shown the way back.
That task, of course, is delicate: Contradict the boss too much and you’re outta here. Fail to point out a bum steer, and you haven’t done your job.
So let Mr. Trump summit on, while making sure he doesn’t give the store away.
In fact, Mr. Pompeo announced Monday he’d soon travel back to Pyongyang, perhaps to prepare a September do-over summit, in New York, to ensure the first one wouldn’t end up being a total waste.