In a solemn ceremony Tuesday, Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial at Pearl Harbor that honors the nearly 2,400 service members killed in his nation’s sneak attack 75 years ago that plunged America into World War II.
He didn’t apologize, but offered condolences – just as Barack Obama did in May, when he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the memorial in Hiroshima to those killed in the 1945 atomic bombing that hastened Japan’s surrender.
After the two leaders laid wreaths and cast flower petals into the waters below the USS Arizona Memorial, they called for tolerance, reconciliation and lasting peace. The reciprocal visits will strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.
That’s what foreign policy is – nuanced, delicate and often orchestrated, with repercussions that can last for decades.
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It is not conducted by tweets fired off in anger or pique – and the sooner President-elect Donald Trump figures that out, the safer America and the world will be.
In recent days, Trump’s Twitter addiction has muddled established U.S. policy on nuclear weapons and the Middle East and further confused friends and foes alike. That’s the thing about being limited to 140 characters; you can’t get into specifics and you leave a lot open to interpretation.
Last Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his military leaders that he wants to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces.”
Apparently in reaction and even though he’s been friendly to Putin, Trump tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
As happens so often, it was left to Trump’s handlers to try to clarify what he actually meant – which they said was modernizing U.S. nukes as Obama has proposed, not adding to America’s arsenal or backtracking on efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the globe.
Nonetheless, many experts and the Chinese government expressed alarm. And on Friday, Trump contradicted his PR machine’s explanation, saying off-camera: “Let it be an arms race because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
Earlier Thursday, Trump also inserted himself into the very sensitive issue of Israeli settlements on lands it seized in the 1967 war, a major hurdle to a two-state solution with Palestinians that the United States has supported.
At the urging of Israel’s government, Trump tweeted that the U.S. should veto a resolution at the United Nations Security Council condemning the settlements. So much for the cardinal rule of one president at a time.
On Friday, after the U.S. had abstained and let the resolution pass 14-0, Trump tweeted that “things will be different after Jan. 20th,” when he is inaugurated. Not content to leave things alone, he tweeted Monday: “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
No, what’s truly sad is that Trump seems incapable of not responding to any provocation and seems to believe that it’s smart strategy to be erratic so that our enemies aren’t quite sure what he’ll do. But during an international crisis, uncertainty can be extremely dangerous and carefully thought out actions are required.
The whole world can only hope his top advisers educate Trump on the fundamentals of foreign policy before he becomes commander in chief.