Just a few weeks ago, Donald Trump gave a big speech laying out his uniquely Trumpian vision for America’s foreign policy. The speech itself was a largely incoherent grab bag of contradictions, but a few themes managed to tumble out. Chief among them was the need to be more erratic and cagey on the world stage, especially when it comes to America’s adversaries. “We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable,” Trump said in discussing the fight against the Islamic State. Of course, Trump also said we must have a “coherent foreign policy” that focuses “on creating stability in the world.” So when it comes to the Trump foreign policy, you can take your pick: the U.S. will either be the international community’s North Star, or it will be an inscrutable and chaotic X factor.
The internal inconsistency of the Trump foreign policy also applies to the North Korean nuclear regime. In an interview with Reuters this week, Trump said that he would be willing to personally take part in bilateral talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un:
The presumptive Republican nominee declined to share details of his plans to deal with North Korea, but said he was open to talking to its leader.
"I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him," he said.
Asked whether he would try to talk some sense into the North Korean leader, Trump replied, "Absolutely."
That’s definitely an unorthodox position as far as the U.S. posture towards the North Koreans is concerned. We’ve negotiated with the rogue state over its nuclear program at various points over the years, usually as part of a multilateral framework. But Trump seems to think he can put those famously inept negotiating skills of his to work and personally talk Kim Jong-un into dismantling his nuclear program. It will all be nice and friendly, a cordial one-on-one between two world leaders.
This position is something of a departure from Trump’s past rhetoric on North Korea – specifically, he’s promised to get super tough on the Kim regime and make Kim Jong-un “disappear.” Asked if that meant assassinating the North Korean dictator, Trump said yeah, sure, whatever:
"I would get China to make that guy [Kim Jong Un] disappear in one form or another very quickly," Trump said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," fresh off his New Hampshire primary victory.
Asked whether that meant assassinating the dictator of the reclusive regime, Trump shrugged.
"Well, you know, I've heard of worse things, frankly. I mean this guy's a bad dude – and don't underestimate him," Trump responded. "Any young guy that can take over from his father with all those generals and everybody else that probably wants the position, this is not somebody to be underestimated."
So the Trump administration’s public posture towards North Korea would cover everything from an unprecedented demonstration of diplomatic outreach to the state-sanctioned murder of its leader. I will grant Trump that this achieves high marks in terms of unpredictability, but it’s also kind of self-defeating. Once you’ve laid the assassination card on the table, it kind of takes all the attention away from the non-assassination ideas you’re putting out there. It also makes it tough for North Korea, China, or anyone else who might be involved with any sort of diplomatic rapprochement to assume that the U.S. is operating in good faith. And, generally speaking, if your goal is “creating stability in the world,” decapitating a rogue, nuclear-armed regime and sending it spiraling into chaos is perhaps not the best trial balloon to float.