Several hours after Donald Trump created an international controversy by calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un “short and fat” on Twitter, Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly said he doesn’t allow his aides and staffers to react to the president’s tweets.
Kelly told a group of reporters in Vietnam:
Someone, I read the other day, said we all just react to the tweets. We don’t. I don’t. I don’t allow the staff to. We know what we’re doing.
Believe it or not, I do not follow the tweets. I find out about them but for our purposes, my purpose, is we make sure the presidents is briefed up on what he’s about to do.
“They are what they are,” Kelly went on, after which he denied that Trump’s tweets have an effect on America’s foreign policy. “We develop policy in the normal traditional staff way,” he said, not based on the president’s angry tweets.
Although the media seem to believe that Trump’s tweets have real-world repercussions, Kelly understands that their effect is greatly exaggerated. The fact of the matter is that most countries and foreign leaders act in their own interests. They may not be pleased when Trump insults them on Twitter, but it doesn’t influence their foreign policy strategy nor their relationship with the U.S. Their goals remain the same. Perhaps they change their tactics, but they won’t alter their end goals.
That’s why Kelly’s statements to journalists traveling with the president’s entourage to Asia make perfect sense. They can’t base their policy recommendations on Trump’s tweets, and they shouldn’t try to do so either. Kim Jong-Un may feel insulted by Trump’s tweets, but his overall strategy remains the same: to collect weapons of mass destruction to force the U.S. into the removal of sanctions and the granting of more financial and material aid. The same goes for another country Trump frequently criticizes, Iran. There has been no change. The ayatollahs in charge of that country continue as before.
What’s most fascinating about Kelly’s statements isn’t what he said, but that the mainstream media thought it strange or noteworthy. It tells us everything we need to know about their understanding of foreign policy — which is precisely why it’s so hard to take them seriously.