Any illusions that President Trump will run a dovish, noninterventionist foreign policy are rather quickly being dashed.
Vice President Pence made a visit to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea overnight and issued an unmistakably stark warning to the North, pointing directly to Trump having struck Syria and used the “Mother of All Bombs” in Afghanistan.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Pence said, as The Post's Anna Fifield reports. “North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.”
Pence said that the United States prefers that North Korea would give up its nuclear arms peacefully, but that “all options are on the table.”
That's a marked departure from the Obama administration's policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea. And it's also a marked departure from Trump's rhetoric about staying out of foreign entanglements and focusing on the homeland first. In the span of 10 days now, Trump has taken unprecedented action in Syria, dropped an unprecedented bomb in Afghanistan and is for all intents and purposes threatening North Korea.
As Fifield notes, analysts believe Trump was struck by the ease of his actions in Syria a week and a half ago. In an interview with Fox Business, he almost gleefully recounted how he ordered missile strikes against the Syrian government while eating dessert — “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen” — with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Then last week, the U.S. military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat while targeting the Islamic State in Afghanistan. The GBU-43 bomb has MOAB (short for Massive Ordnance Air Blast) written on the side of it — initials that also stand for its more common nickname: Mother of All Bombs. Trump and the White House didn't say whether the president himself authorized it, but the move practically screamed “TRUMP,” and Pence's words Monday strongly suggest that Trump did it deliberately to send a message about his brand of foreign policy.
That message apparently will include plenty of Trumpian proclamations about what the United States reserves the right to do with the military he plans to bolster to new levels. Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy was famously to "speak softly and carry a big stick" — i.e. to act when the United States had the moral imperative. Trump's is to carry that big stick but also speak very freely about wielding it.
And that message doesn't sound much like Trump on the campaign trail. Instead of staying out of foreign conflicts, Trump seems to be gambling on strength and big talk/actions as a deterrent — essentially, threatening to get involved if hostile actors don't stay in line.
The flip side of that, of course, is when the other side tries to call your bluff. President Barack Obama's experience with his Syria “red line” is Case Study No. 1 in how that can go poorly. And North Korea is already threatening to strike back, citing Trump's “reckless” aggression.
When those comments were made, the Trump administration was vigorously denying an NBC News report that it was prepared to “preemptively” strike North Korea if it believed Kim Jong Un was about to test a nuclear weapon.
That apparently was too aggressive a characterization for the Trump administration's liking. But in the context of the big talk, big actions and big promises of action coming from the Trump White House, it's not that far afield of the picture we're getting of the Trump foreign policy.