The Corner

National Security & Defense

Donald Trump Just Gave North Korea a Dangerous Gift

President Donald Trump looks on during the extended bilateral meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

This, from Fox’s Pentagon correspondent, is not good news:

Per NBC News, the Pentagon is rolling back annual exercises called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle and replacing them with “smaller, mission-specific training,” including virtual training. This decision is consistent with Trump’s surprise promise last year to end military exercises with South Korea — a policy change that North Korea has long sought.

I served during Operation Key Resolve in 2010, and while there were moments that were deadly dull (enlivened only by an hours-long debate with a group of South Korean officers over who was the best American Idol winner of all time), the entire exercise helped demonstrate the command-and-control challenges of a second Korean War and trained a new generation of officers to resolve the inherent difficulties in coordinating two different armed forces as they respond to an immense crisis. Other aspects of the exercises trained soldiers how to operate on the very real terrain from which they’d defend South Korea in the event of a real attack. Given how soldiers cycle through units, annual exercises help keep the entire force sharp.

The exercises helped maintain readiness, and readiness helps maintain deterrence. I’m sorry, but the military’s “virtual” training is no substitute for standing on South Korean soil.

This announcement retroactively places the Vietnam summit in even worse light. I agree with our editors that it was right for Trump to walk away with no deal. I also agree that he never should have walked into the summit in the first place. As of now, the ledger looks terrible. Trump gave North Korea exactly the kind of center-stage moment that it desperately craves, placing it as an equal negotiating partner with the world’s only superpower. Trump also (and inexcusably) publicly absolved Kim Jong Un of Otto Warmbier’s brutal murder, triggering a statement from Warmbier’s parents:

And finally, Trump has made a decision that impairs our nation’s ability to be fully ready to “fight tonight.” I was glad to see Trump walk away from the summit with no deal. After all, a bad deal is worse than no deal. But what’s also worse than no deal is no deal combined with unilateral U.S. concessions. Trump has elevated North Korea, flattered its leader, and made a command decision that could materially impair military readiness. In so doing, he has given North Korea a series of dangerous gifts. Weakening our military alliance while enhancing DPRK prestige only encourages North Korea as it pursues its nuclear path.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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