Can’t go it alone

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Barack Obama drew crit­i­cism for the per­cep­tion that while he was pres­i­dent, the United States in some ways aban­doned its tra­di­tional role of global lead­er­ship in fa­vor of an ap­proach that an Obama aide mem­o­rably de­scribed as “lead­ing from be­hind.” But even as the U.S. stayed mostly away from the fray as the Syr­ian civil war turned into a mas­sive hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, Amer­ica main­tained its lead­ing po­si­tion by push­ing for a global re­sponse to cli­mate change, sup­port­ing long­stand­ing mu­tual de­fense pacts and cham­pi­oning free-trade deals.

As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Don­ald Trump was all over the place on for­eign pol­icy, al­ter­nately sound­ing hawk­ish and iso­la­tion­ist. But he also said the U.S. should stop be­ing the world’s patsy—both in of­fer­ing costly mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion to na­tions that didn’t do enough to strengthen their own armed forces and in ac­cept­ing trade agree­ments that in his view harmed U.S. work­ers and the U.S. econ­omy.

There are el­e­ments of truth in his cri­tique. But then and now, Trump has never ap­pre­ci­ated that hav­ing strong bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with many na­tions is a two-way street, ben­e­fit­ing Amer­i­can in­ter­ests by pro­mot­ing sta­bil­ity and co­op­er­a­tion. With the ex­cep­tion of South Korea and Ja­pan—which have the most at stake— Trump’s call to ac­tion on North Korea has so far won only muted or pro forma re­sponses. Mean­while, Rus­sia and China, the na­tion with the most abil­ity to in­flu­ence North Korea be­cause of its fi­nan­cial ties, are re­fus­ing to in­crease pres­sure on Py­ongyang.

For the mil­lions of res­i­dents of the Seoul metropoli­tan area—within easy reach of 8,000 North Korean big guns loaded with ar­tillery shells from Py­ongyang’s huge stock­pile of bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal weapons—the North’s bel­liger­ent talk shouldn’t just be scary. It should be ter­ri­fy­ing.

The stakes could scarcely be higher. What the world needs is a calm, Amer­i­can-led ef­fort to im­prove re­la­tion­ships with Kim Jong Un and North Korea’s mil­i­tary to ad­dress the na­tion’s fear that it is sur­rounded by en­e­mies. What it doesn’t need is a uni­lat­eral Amer­i­can ef­fort that is built on a di­plo­matic am­a­teur’s blus­ter and de­nial.

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