Bloomberg joining numerous outlets in reporting on the recent souring of relations between North Korea and the United States, despite President Donald Trump’s determined effort to cast his erratic diplomacy in the best possible light:
The U.S. doesn’t plan to suspend more joint military drills with South Korean forces, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, as diplomatic progress on North Korea’s denuclearization appears to have stalled.
“We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, adding that the Defense Department hasn’t made decisions about major annual drills expected next year. “We’ll make decisions on that in consultation with State.”
Mattis said he’s working in coordination with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s diplomatic efforts — “it’s all riding on Secretary Pompeo’s shoulders,” he said — but he also signaled that smaller-scale exercises are going ahead. In an apparent response to more routine training efforts, North Korea has stepped up criticism recently, saying American forces are conducting covert military rehearsals for an invasion.
In separate news reports today, we learn that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest visit to Pyongyang was cancelled abruptly following receipt of a nastygram from the North Korean government. This announcement doesn’t mean that provocative military exercises will immediately resume after Trump ordered them halted last June–just that at some point in the future, they might resume. You’ll recall that Sen. Cory Gardner helped misinform the news cycle on these exercises when they were halted, getting smacked down by the White House when he falsely claimed they weren’t.
So it’s more than a bit curious that to the same Sen. Gardner, this latest spat represents nothing less than the second coming of Douglas MacArthur:
Kim Jong Un has a choice – denuclearize or continue leading a country in isolation withering under maximum pressure. https://t.co/vOG5VLFSEL
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) August 28, 2018
That Gardner is still clinging to the phrase “maximum pressure” to describe American policy toward North Korea shows how far removed from reality Gardner’s rhetoric is. When Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with no preconditions, the “maximum pressure” strategy against North Korea was effectively abandoned. Trump’s abrupt cancellation of that summit, only to un-cancel it a few days later, means that no one should consider these latest threats to be in any way definitive. After all, this was the President of the United States exactly four days ago:
…Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved. In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
In summary, the state of American diplomacy with North Korea can be characterized in many ways, but in 2018 the one phrase that does not apply is “maximum pressure.” We believe that Gardner knows this perfectly well, but he also knows that anything other than covering for Trump no matter what happens would have serious consequences: both for Gardner personally, and Republicans in the upcoming midterms generally.
It’s what Cory Gardner has been reduced to under Trump. A toady with a script that changes too often.