President Trump plans to skip the East Asia Summit (EAS) during his 12-day trip this November, and the reason for his absence is appalling.
2017 marks the 12th year of the annual EAS — a forum of leaders from Asian nations. It also welcomes leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.
Attendance at the summit is a presidential duty. Former President Barack Obama became the first American president to attend the summit since the U.S.’ inclusion in 2011, and did so annually (barring 2013, when he could not make the trip due to a government shutdown).
Trade and multilateralism are usually the main topics of interest during the summit, where leaders discuss general strategies moving forward.
Despite being in the Philippines on the day of the EAS, Trump has decided to leave early.
“The President’s trip to Asia is extremely lengthy and will be his longest to date – his return to the U.S. on the evening of Nov. 13 is entirely schedule-driven,” said one White House spokesman, according to The Washington Post. “You should not read anything into his being absent on the 14th.”
But Post columnist Josh Rogin was skeptical. Why would Trump leave early when he’ll be in the host country the day of the summit?
After speaking to various Trump administration officials, Rogin claims to have uncovered the truth. Sadly, it’s relatively unsurprising.
What’s Happening Now:
In lieu of the White House’s pleas to disregard Trump’s absence, Rogin discovered that administration officials wish to keep the president’s childish temper at bay.
“Multiple administration officials told me there was a lengthy debate inside the Trump administration about the summit, but officials close to Trump were concerned the president did not want to stay in the region for so long and worried he could get cranky, leading to unpredictable or undiplomatic behavior,” the report reads.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” said Dan Blumenthal, Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, per the report. “What’s a bigger deal is what comes out of the actual [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte meeting.”
Duterte—who advocates a distancing from Western nations to pursue “independent foreign policy,” is essentially the Donald Trump of the Philippines. In April 2016, Duterte came under fire for his disgusting comments regarding the 1989 gang-rape and murder of an Australian missionary.
“I looked at her face, son of a bitch, she looks like a beautiful American actress,” he said. “Was I angry because she was raped? Yes, that's one thing. But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”
Despite Blumenthal’s suggestion that Trump’s absence isn’t a big deal, former U.S. ambassador Derek Mitchell says the opposite is true.
“It is a big deal,” Mitchell said in the report. “The Obama administration made a point of investing in these regional institutions in order to demonstrate we are an Asia Pacific power, a resident power in the region. This will only raise more questions about American credibility.”
Mitchell said Asian host countries typically schedule the EAS to best accommodate the U.S. president. Trump’s absence is likely to frustrate the very leaders he’s scheduled to meet.
“It’s not necessarily convenient for others,” he said. “I’m sure it’s frustrating to many of our partners.”
Trump, who routinely stresses the need to take action against North Korean nuclear militarization, is missing a huge opportunity by neglecting to attend the summit. If he really wants to be taken seriously, he ought to avoid shirking his responsibilities as commander-in-chief.
“The rest of Asia needs us to be there,” said Ernest Bower, senior adviser for Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I can’t imagine not staying for that last 24 hours just to keep America in the game. It’s shocking.”
Unpresidential, sure — but shocking? Trump’s gross negligence seldom shocks me anymore.
H/T: The Washington Post