The decision of President Donald Trump to give up on his original demands — to only re-open the federal government and end a shutdown if he got a border wall out of it, too — has got me thinking about North Korea.
It may be an odd thought for some, but considering how the entire drama of the 35-day shutdown debacle began and ended, it makes a lot of sense to start thinking about how Trump’s failure to be a master negotiator may affect crises he’s involved in elsewhere.
Let’s recap how the shutdown happened in the first place: Late last year, Trump said he wouldn’t sign any continuing resolution to keep the government open into law unless it also included nearly $6 billion in border wall funding. The Republican-controlled Senate couldn’t pass that kind of bill in the last weeks of December, and the Democratic-run House of Representatives wouldn’t pass a bill with a wall in it when they took office in January.
Despite these issues in Congress, Trump stood his ground, stating he’d rather shut down the government before giving in, per reporting from The Guardian. “Now we have [get a border wall] the hard way, with a Shutdown,” Trump wrote in a tweet.
Senate approves bill to reopen the government, the first step to ending the nation's longest shutdown https://t.co/hxWI4UxWYR
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 25, 2019
Thus, an impasse was created that lasted more than a month.
And at the end of that impasse, the president relented and agreed to temporarily fund the government with a spending bill he would sign, sans border wall.
Now, imagine you’re a foreign leader watching this entire debacle unfold. Beyond seeing Trump behaving in an irrational and embarrassing way from the get-go, what conclusions would you draw about this president and his ability to make threats in order to bargain for a deal to his nation’s liking?
Trump was stubborn, to be sure, but in the end, he acquiesced to re-opening the government without a border wall, albeit for a limited time. He had previously said he was prepared to go for months or even years with the government shut down before he’d agree to sign a bill. But now we see that isn’t true.
Leaders across the globe saw it, too. Trump was outmaneuvered on this issue by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. What this entire ordeal demonstrates to foreign leaders is that Trump isn’t the expert negotiator he’d have them believe he is.
Just think of how this shutdown drama will affect negotiations with other nations in the weeks ahead. We have a looming trade deal deadline with China that’s set to be reached by March. Even sooner than that, according to reporting from Politico, Trump is scheduled to meet with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un.
Will Kim see threats by Trump, demanding that Pyongyang denuclearize the Korean peninsula, as legitimate? Or will Kim take note of the events of the last several weeks, that the president of the United States is accustomed to changing his tune on the threats he makes given certain conditions or pressures that may come about later on?
Even on trade deals with nations aligned with U.S. interests, it’s clear that Trump is no longer (or never was) the master of “the Art of the Deal.” This could hurt American farmers and manufacturers, who were hoping on Trump to come through on a trade deal with the European Union in the months ahead, according to reporting from Foreign Policy.
Trump read the tea leaves and made the right call by relenting on the shutdown debate. Trump’s “giving in” means federal employees will be back to work and receive pay for that work, as well as myriad other positive aspects that come about from re-opening the government.
But the better move to have made would have been for Trump to have never made the threats he did in the first place. The world now knows he’s amenable to any threats he makes in the future — and unfortunately, our nation’s adversaries may take advantage of that fact.