Hawk to Canada, dove to North Korea
What a wild few days of international affairs for the United States. President Donald Trump went from being belligerent to our nation’s closest allies on trade — and going out of his way to berate our closest ally of all, Canada — to embracing the country that was potentially our greatest foe, North Korea.
Both actions are likely to have lasting effects.
In Canada for the G7 summit, Trump arrived late, left early and was said to have been generally disagreeable with allied leaders. Maybe he expected them to be intimidated because he responded ferociously when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a closing press conference, said his country “will not be pushed around” and will stand up to “insulting” U.S. tariffs with tariffs of their own. Anyone with any political sensibility realizes Trudeau has to tell his fellow Canadians he’s looking out for their interests, but Trump flew off the handle and mixed personal rancor in with international policy. He replied by pulling the U.S. out of a joint G7 communique and tweeting that Trudeau is “weak” and “dishonest.” He pointed out that Trudeau had acted “meek and mild” at the G7 summit; nothing makes a bully angrier than when someone he considers meek shows some spine.
It took the goodwill of many generations of Americans and Canadians to build our countries’ wonderful and mutually profitable relationship, but Trump is snubbing that and maybe even starting to unravel it, amazing as that may seem. All political parties in Canada, Conservative as well as Liberal, rejected his awful treatment of their nation. Outraged Canadians are talking about boycotting U.S. goods and travel, at least partially.
Any breakdown between the U.S. and Canada would really harm northern New York. Canadian companies operate on this side of the border — Bombardier, for instance, makes train cars in Plattsburgh — and visitors from Ontario and Quebec largely fuel the North Country economy. Canadians flood south across the border to shop in Plattsburgh and Watertown, and many have second homes here as well. North County residents enjoy traveling to Canada, too.
Very few Americans feel negatively toward Canada, and we hope Canadians realize that. Trump is not representing his country in this. He’s just speaking for himself.
With North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, however, Trump played the statesman this week. In Tuesday’s summit in Singapore, Trump said his warming relationship with Kim will lead the latter to give up nuclear weapons. Yet details were sparse in their joint statement that promised “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, with nothing about how or when that might happen, or when the next meeting will take place.
Trump did make one big, concrete concession: ending U.S.-South Korean military exercises off the Korean coast. North Korea has long seen these drills as a rehearsal for an invasion, while South Koreans saw them as a promise of security. The announcement caught both South Korea and the U.S. military by surprise. Trump later clarified that the U.S. does not yet plan to diminish its military presence in South Korea, even without the drills.
In turn, Kim offered to dismantle a testing facility for ballistic missile engines.
Less than a year ago, Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on Kim’s homeland, but now, “The president has pivoted almost entirely from sticks to carrots on North Korea,” a New York Times report said Tuesday. For instance, Trump showed Kim a short film made for the summit that showed the development potential of North Korea’s beaches, covered in hotels and condos instead of cannons, if only the country would forsake its nuclear weapons.
“Think of it from the real estate perspective,” Trump said. “South Korea and China — and they own the land in the middle.”
This is probably the best that could have been expected out of this summit — a positive setup for future peace negotiations. We believe most Americans are wary of North Korea but truly want peace, and remarkably, it is starting to look more likely. Trump deserves a great deal of applause for that.
However, sowing peace with our enemy does not require sowing enmity with our greatest friend and trading partner. We hope Trump comes around on Canada, too — and quickly.