Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he would be withdrawing from the recently-announced sanctions on North Korea—the same ones his own Treasury department imposed a day earlier.
Just yesterday, the Trump administration announced a new set of sanctions targeting two Chinese shipping companies it argued were helping the autocratic regime evade other international sanctions already in place. But today, Trump decided he wasn’t going to do that, a confusing move in open conflict with pretty much everyone else in his government, not in the least because the president didn’t even get the day the sanctions were announced (yesterday, not today) right.
The U.S. government uses broad and targeted sanctions for a variety of reasons, largely to put pressure on foreign leaders without the use of direct intervention or force. In the case of North Korea, U.S. and international negotiators have for decades used various sanctions to push the regime to scale down its nuclear program.
As the New York Times reported today, Trump seems to have made this reversal largely because he and Kim Jong Un are buddies, which in and of itself is a pretty weird thing. Anyway, here’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders rationalizing the move the Times (emphasis mine):
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the decision was a favor to Mr. Kim.
“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.
OK, sure, sounds good! How does the rest of the administration feel about the sanctions?
Bolton’s interests largely include bombing Iran and also bombing places that aren’t Iran, which means that anything he refers to as “important actions” should be closely scrutinized. The specific sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department were partly a reaction to the fumbled second summit between Trump and Kim at the end of February. The summit ultimately ended, according to Trump, because North Korea asked for a blanket removal of all sanctions in return for “denuclearization,” a nebulous term that experts say does not actually mean North Korea will give up all of its nukes and delivery devices. That deal was no good, Trump walked, and Bolton et al. moved onto “maintaining” pressure on the regime, per the Times.
Still, even at the end of the summit, Trump continued to speak warmly of Kim, which means this strange bait-and-switch could be an attempt to preserve that personal relationship.
Regardless of the decision-making processes of our leaky-brained president, diplomacy-by-tweet continues to deeply stress-inducing way to run the world. In nuclear geopolitics, as in life, it is almost always better to log off.