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Ain’t No Party Like a Camp David Party
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Ain’t No Party Like a Camp David Party

Biden hosts leaders of Japan and South Korea in the face of threats from China and North Korea.

Happy Monday! Because the vessel was unmanned, we feel less bad chuckling at Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashing into the south pole of the moon over the weekend—or ceasing “to exist as a result of a collision with the surface,” as Russia’s space agency put it.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Denmark and the Netherlands will both provide Ukraine with U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced during a tour of a Dutch air force base with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen confirmed her country would provide 19 warplanes over the course of the next two years. The timeline for the initial delivery of the long-awaited planes depends on training Ukrainian pilots and developing the infrastructure for the planes in Ukraine. 
  • The Biden administration on Friday extended temporary protected legal status for Ukrainians in the United States “beginning on October 20, 2023, and ending on April 19, 2025.” The order allows more than 180,000 Ukrainians who were in the country before August 16 to live and work in the U.S. legally using the Secretary of Homeland Security’s parole authority.
  • Tropical Storm Hilary weakened from a hurricane before making landfall in Mexico on Sunday, but is still expected to dump a historic amount of rain on the American southwest, causing catastrophic and potentially deadly flooding in the typically rain-starved region, according to the National Hurricane Center. More than 9 million people were under a flash flood warning across the region as of Sunday night. Meanwhile, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Ojai, California, on Sunday, rattling the southern part of the state but not seeming to cause any major damage.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday that search efforts on the island of Maui, Hawaii, were 78 percent complete after devastating fires ripped through the town of Lahaina earlier this month. The Defense Department, meanwhile, promised Friday to deploy 700 servicemembers and 140 Coast Guardsmen to the island to aid with recovery. The death toll currently stands at more than 110 people as the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Herman Andaya, resigned Thursday, amid mounting criticism for not activating emergency sirens on the island as wildfires spread. Andaya defended his decision last week, saying his agency uses the sirens primarily for tsunamis and that he was concerned activating the sirens would have sent people fleeing to higher ground, toward the fires. Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez launched an investigation into the agency’s decision-making.
  • Speaking to special counsel Jack Smith’s investigators, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reportedly contradicted former President Donald Trump’s repeated claim that he declassified the sensitive documents allegedly found at his Mar-a-Lago resort after he left office. ABC News reported that Meadows—who is now one of Trump’s co-defendants in a Fulton County, Georgia, indictment—undermined his former boss’ chief public defense against federal chargers over his mishandling of the classified files, telling them he could not recall the president ordering or discussing the documents’ declassification. Former Vice President Mike Pence also said Sunday he had no memory of such an order before the end of the Trump administration.  
  • A Delaware federal judge on Thursday dismissed two misdemeanor tax charges against Hunter Biden—President Joe Biden’s son—at the request of federal prosecutors, who signaled they may bring the same or additional charges after the plea deal between Biden and prosecutors fell apart in July. A New York Times report on the deal suggested Hunter Biden was only charged with the tax misdemeanors due to pressure from Internal Revenue Service whistleblowers, who came forward to allege the Justice Department was declining to prosecute for political reasons. 
  • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson claimed Sunday he qualified for a podium on the GOP primary debate stage August 23 on Fox News. Hutchinson, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, also said he would sign the Republican National Committee’s loyalty pledge to the eventual nominee. Six other candidates have also qualified for the debate, though Trump—currently the frontrunner—has said he will skip the debate to instead release a taped interview with Tucker Carlson, despite the urging of top Fox News executives.
  • Pascale Ferrier, a Canadian woman, was sentenced to almost 22 years in prison Thursday for mailing letters laced with the deadly toxin ricin to former President Donald Trump and several Texas law enforcement officials in 2020. Investigators also found eight letters to Texas law enforcement officials she blamed for a previous detention in the state. The letter to Trump, which called on him to drop out of the 2020 presidential race and threatened further violence if the ricin was unsuccessful, was intercepted at an 0ff-site screening facility before it reached the White House.
  • James L. Buckley—former U.S. Senator, Under Secretary of State, D.C. Circuit Court judge, and older brother of William F. Buckley, Jr.—died Friday at 100 years old. The plaintiff in a case challenging campaign finance law, his victory laid the groundwork for the landmark Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010.

Diplomatic Summer Camp

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on January 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on January 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good, old-fashioned Camp David summit. The casual dresscode, the peaceful, wooded surroundings—meetings at the president’s Maryland mountain retreat seem to inspire a sense of optimism.

That certainly seemed to be the case for President Joe Biden. After meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Friday, the U.S. president promised the trio would convene annually “from this point on; not just this year, not next year—forever.” He quickly added a caveat to his promise—“that’s the intention”—as if suddenly remembering the presidential election next year that could upend his plans. 

Friday’s historic trilateral meeting ended an eight-year dry spell for Camp David-diplomacy dating back to former President Barack Obama’s colloquy with Gulf state leaders in 2015. The tête-à-tête was the first standalone summit between the three countries, and one that was unthinkable even a few years ago given Seoul’s well-grounded animosity toward its onetime colonizer in Tokyo. The meeting—and the increased security and economic cooperation that emerged from it—reflects the Biden administration’s approach to alliances in a tense geopolitical reality, bringing former enemies together against common foes in North Korea and China. 

The newly forged tripartite alliance, while starting on a firm footing, is not without its potential pitfalls; the road to a Japan-South Korea détente—much less friendship—has been a rocky one. Tensions flared in 2018, for example, when South Korea’s Supreme Court demanded two Japanese companies pay reparations for colonial-era abuses that Japan viewed as a settled issue. Even as recently as last year, analysts of East Asia were arguing the relationship between the two countries was at its low-point since 1965, when they normalized relations after more than three decades of brutal occupation by Japan during the first half of the 20th century. 

New governments in both Japan and South Korea have opened the door for a more productive dynamic, and in March the two leaders held the first bilateral meeting in 12 years. “I want to thank you both for your political courage that brought you here,” Biden said Friday by way of welcome, alluding to their stormy past. 

It’s not just fresh leadership and “political courage” drawing them together, but their rough neighborhood. North Korea has tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles this year—most recently last month—to demonstrate to the U.S. and its allies the country’s “unwavering will to overwhelmingly counter them,” according to North Korean state media. In late July, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chinese Politburo member Li Hongzhong joined North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean armistice, signaling that even the Hermit Kingdom has a couple friends. 

But North Korea’s provocations alone may not have been enough to prompt Tokyo and Seoul to put the past behind them—China’s increased aggression over the last several years is a key factor, even if official statements from the meeting carefully avoided making it all about Beijing. “The steps that [Japan and South Korea take] to defend themselves against North Korea antagonize China, which then does something aggressive, and then that pushes Japan and South Korea closer together as they realize they’re confronted by this common threat,” Michael Beckley, associate professor of political science at Tufts University and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, tells TMD

Though the trio did strongly condemn China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea in their joint statement, and Biden admitted the subject “obviously” came up, the U.S. president was cagey during the day’s closing press conference. “This summit was not about China,” he told reporters. “That was not the purpose of the meeting.”

The leaders’ insistence on maritime security and freedom of navigation, however—as well as support for Taiwan—made clear they were keeping a close eye on Beijing. But both the Japanese and South Korean economies are deeply intertwined with China’s, rendering harsh statements from behind the podium a risky venture. “I think they’re going to be trying to navigate, ‘How can we keep the Americans on board and show that we’re going to be good soldiers in this economic battle, while at the same time not escalating the economic competition with Beijing so quickly that suddenly we’re left in the lurch?’” Beckley told TMD ahead of Friday’s announcements.

Following this summit, the three countries may be closer than ever. The talks produced promises of increased cooperation in the technology sector, an initiative to bolster women’s participation in the economy, collaboration between each country’s national laboratories and development finance agencies, and an effort to monitor critical supply chains of things like chips and semiconductors as part of an early warning system in the case of future disruptions. 

But those initiatives paled in comparison to the efforts on security cooperation that headlined the show. Threats from North Korea were front and center, with the three leaders vowing to set up a mechanism to share real-time data about Pyongyang’s ICBM launches. They also established a schedule for future trilateral military exercises and instituted a “commitment to consult”—a three-way crisis hotline aimed at making sure all three countries can react in case any of them is threatened by North Korea or China. 

The new three-way alliance is another example of Biden’s national security strategy that emphasizes a “latticework” of overlapping alliances—a departure from the “hub and spoke” model of bilateral relationships that had come to define the United States’ presence in the region. The administration spearheaded the AUKUS agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom, for example, and moved to bolster the Quad grouping that includes the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia. Friday’s summit—according to Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations—should be viewed through a similar lens. “They’re trying to put into place a framework that would basically incentivize and build habits of cooperation trilaterally,” he tells TMD.

Unsurprisingly, China was not pleased. “Attempts to form various exclusive groups and cliques and to bring bloc confrontation into the Asia-Pacific region are unpopular and will definitely spark vigilance and opposition in the countries of the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. “No country should seek its own security at the expense of the security interests of others and of regional peace and stability.” The statement was striking, considering China and Russia sailed a flotilla of 11 ships near Japan’s southern islands on the eve of the summit. “China seems to be trying to have all of these joint military drills with its authoritarian partners to really show that they are the united front against what they view as hostile containment by the United States and its allies,” Beckley says. 

Ahead of bilateral U.S.-South Korea military drills that begin today, South Korean police revealed over the weekend that North Korean hackers had spent more than a year trying—and failing—to gain information about the exercises. The attempted hack raises the specter of previous attempts by Pyongyang to infiltrate Seoul’s defense networks and a 2020 Chinese hacking effort against Japan’s Defense Ministry detailed in a Washington Post report earlier this month. It’s unclear whether such threats will limit future intelligence-sharing between the U.S. and its Asian allies.

How durable will the new pact be? Japan-South Korea relations may still sour again, as they’ve done in the past. And though Biden foresees “decades and decades” of cooperation between the three countries, the upcoming U.S. election could mean a shakeup up Biden’s embrace of global alliances—particularly if he were to be succeeded by former President Donald Trump, who took a dim view of multilateralism. “In South Korea, there’s a tremendous fear that they could be abandoned or that [Trump will] drive a harder bargain,” Beckley tells TMD. “That itself could undermine the U.S. glue that I think holds this thing together, and in that kind of context you can see some of the historical sniping reemerge between Tokyo and Seoul.”

Worth Your Time

  • Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and president of Purdue University, has a piece in the Washington Post arguing we don’t appreciate Calvin Coolidge enough. “A nation drowning in debt and in serious need of a cultural course correction could do much worse than to examine the life of the quiet man from Massachusetts,” he argues. “We live in a time when the leadership of both parties, in the face of brutal arithmetic of which they cannot pretend to be less than fully aware, continues to drive the federal government and its safety net programs off a cliff of debt, at the bottom of which awaits not only an economic but also a social crisis. Coolidge, who limited government employees to one pencil at a time, summed up his policy in 1924 as ‘I am for economy. After that I am for more economy. At this time and under these circumstances that is my conception of serving the people.’ He endeavored to identify the right approach for the situation before him. In his day, he took that to mean reducing the national debt, and he did, by one-third. Would that we had him counting the pencils today. We’re mired in a hot-dog, look-at-me, dance-in-the-end-zone world. Success in public capacities seems reliant not on the quality of officeholders’ ideas or effectiveness, but on their cleverness and audacity in sound bites, tweeting and the other ‘performative’ arts. It’s hard to imagine anyone more countercultural, less in sync with today’s zeitgeist, than Silent Cal.”

Presented Without Comment

The Hill: [Vivek] Ramaswamy Suggests He Would Run Government Like [Elon] Musk Does [Twitter]

Also Presented Without Comment

New York Post: Biden, Hunter Vacation at Billionaire Climate Investor Tom Steyer’s $18m Lake Tahoe Mansion

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Chris weighs (Members Only) the pros and cons of Trump skipping this week’s debate, Jonah argues Trump is clearly morally and historically culpable for his lies, Nick reflects on (Members Only) a week’s worth of newsletters, and the Dispatch Politics crew chronicles the Trump-Kemp divide within the Georgia GOP. 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah pans small-dollar donations and engages in some rank punditry.  
  • On the site over the weekend: Bonnie Kristian labels Sohrab Ahmari’s new book right-wing coded Marxism and Jeffrey Tyler Syck explores how the viral country song, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” reflects America’s urban-rural divide. 
  • On the site today: Charlotte dives into the national security implications of Biden’s Camp David summit and Harvest provides an update on Afghans in limbo two years after the U.S. withdrawal. 

Let Us Know

Do you think the Biden administration’s “latticework” approach to alliances will prove effective at countering China?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.