When three Americans, long held as political prisoners of North Korea, were returned to U.S. soil NBC News headlined its memo on the news of the day with the words, “Prisoner release event highlights the best and worst of Trump.”
The “worst” part was President Trump’s characteristically uncareful speech, letting the word “excellent” slip out of his mouth in describing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The “best” part, NBC seems to suggest, was the made-for-TV showmanship of the event.
In truth, the best part was that three men are now free and Kim is increasingly making gestures towards peace. The worst thing about the moment was the inability of so many of Trump’s critics to look for one moment at the substance of his actions rather than his off-putting style.
Trump is not a normal president, but nevertheless he does the same things a normal president does. Among them, he conducts foreign policy. Too many politicians and critics have been unable to address his foreign policy as foreign policy, instead maintaining focus on how much they don’t like him — either his style or his other actions.
This is too bad, not because there is no room to debate Trump’s foreign policy. There obviously is. And talk of a Nobel Peace Prize is, at this early point, nearly as absurd as the actual award of the prize to former President Barack Obama was in his first year in office for doing nothing other than, well, being Obama.
Trump’s foreign policy actions deserve to be discussed and debated on their merits because he is actually doing things, taking policy in a new direction, and the best path to good policy involves good-faith substantive criticism.
Trump’s Korea overtures may be a historic path to peace, or they may be another example of a U.S. leader playing into the hands of the nation’s dictator. Whether Trump’s Korea strategy is prudent is a matter of debate. Whether his course of action will yield peace is as yet unknowable. But you cannot plausibly deny that there is a strategy, and like Bill Clinton’s, George W. Bush’s, and Obama’s strategies, the aim is peace.
The same is true on Iran. Many commentators look at Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal as being a tantrum, rank ideologi