Donald Trump's two-week trip to Asia will focus, in great measure, on the escalating nuclear tension with North Korea. But prior to his election, despite this weekend's golf outing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump was much more upset by the nuclear protection that the United States affords its ally.
During the campaign, Trump famously said that Japan may have to learn to defend itself with nukes, and when he was later pressed on the issue by CNN's Jake Tapper, Trump tried to deny he'd said that. However, Tapper forced him to admit that he had:
TAPPER: At a rally in Sacramento, you accused [Hillary Clinton] of lying about your foreign policy as it relates to expressing support for Japan being able to get nuclear weapons.
TRUMP: A hundred percent.
TAPPER: Well, let me just read from you.
TRUMP: Uh, sure.
TAPPER: And you explain to me.
This is from an April 3 interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News. You said: “North Korea has nukes, Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would, in fact, be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea.” And Chris Wallace says, “With nukes?” And you say, “Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.” So...
TRUMP: Yeah, but here's what you don't have.
Every time I have ever said anything about Japan defending themselves — and, again, they're going to have to defend themselves with whatever they're going to have — we right now defend Japan. Japan pays us a small fraction of the cost, a very small fraction. I want them to pay us at least the cost.
Trump then went on to explicitly threaten to extort money from Japan using the threat of nuclear war and attacked Japan in such vicious terms that Tapper had to remind him they are a major U.S. ally:
TRUMP: But you know what I think is going to happen?
You have to be prepared to walk from a deal. You can't go in there saying — like Hillary said, “We will never let our partners down. We will never, never, never.” OK, that's wonderful. Except, you know what? If I'm Japan, I say good.
We might as well keep paying the 50 percent. It's actually less than that. We might even keep — you know, just keep paying what we're paying, which is a fraction of the cost.
You have to be prepared to walk. If you aren't prepared to walk, you're never going to be able to able to — these are very smart people we're dealing with, OK? They've been ripping us off for a long time. And I love Japan. I have many friends in Japan.
TAPPER: These are U.S. allies, I mean, major U.S. allies.
TRUMP: Excuse me.
TRUMP: It's got to work two ways.
Trump's bitterness toward Japan isn't a new thing, however. Way back in 1990, Trump volunteered a nearly identical opinion on Japan and said the world was laughing at the United States for protecting its ally:
What would be some of President Trump’s longer-term views of the future?
I think of the future, but I refuse to paint it. Anything can happen. But I often think of nuclear war.
I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process. It’s the ultimate, the ultimate catastrophe, the biggest problem this world has, and nobody’s focusing on the nuts and bolts of it. It’s a little like sickness. People don’t believe they’re going to get sick until they do. Nobody wants to talk about it. I believe the greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing it will never happen, because everybody knows how destructive it will be, so nobody uses weapons. What bullshit.
Does any of that fuzzy thinking exist around the Trump office?
On a much lower level, I would never hire anybody who thinks that way, because he has absolutely no common sense. He’s living in a world of make-believe. It’s like thinking the Titantic can’t sink. Too many countries have nuclear weapons; nobody knows where they’re all pointed, what button it takes to launch them.
The bomb Harry Truman dropped on Hiroshima was a toy next to today’s. We have thousands of weapons pointed at us and nobody even knows if they’re going to go in the right direction. They’ve never really been tested. These jerks in charge don’t know how to paint a wall, and we’re relying on them to shoot nuclear missiles to Moscow. What happens if they don’t go there? What happens if our computer systems aren’t working? Nobody knows if this equipment works, and I’ve seen numerous reports lately stating that the probability is they don’t work. It’s a total mess.
And how would President Trump handle it?
He would believe very strongly in extreme military strength. He wouldn’t trust anyone. He wouldn’t trust the Russians; he wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing…. We’re being laughed at around the world, defending Japan—
Watch Trump's full interview with Tapper below.