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Tillerson is trying to avoid war with North Korea. Trump says he's “wasting his time.”

This is not how diplomacy is done.

DOD Commemorates 16th Anniversary Of 9/11 Terror Attacks At Pentagon Memorial Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in China this week meeting with President Xi Jinping to discuss ways to increase pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.

And there were signs it was going well: “We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson told the New York Times when asked about the possibility of direct diplomatic engagement with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.

But almost as soon as Tillerson’s trip was over, President Donald Trump swiftly undermined his secretary of state’s outreach. From his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump tweeted the following Sunday morning:

It’s not unusual for Trump to undercut his own officials on Twitter, but this was extreme even by his standards. As the Atlantic’s editor Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, Trump’s brazen defiance of Tillerson is both dangerous and unprecedented.

As the New York Times’s David Sanger reported, Tillerson was in China with the explicit goal of “lowering the temperature of the threats being exchanged in recent days between Mr. Kim and President Trump” (read: avoiding war).

But Trump’s impulsive tweeting is certain to have the opposite effect. As is often the case, Trump is likely posturing on Twitter to save face and influence media coverage.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, made the crucial point:

The stinging Sunday tweets capped yet another devastating weekend of Twitter attacks, which began early Saturday with a string of snipes at San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who criticized the administration’s lagging response to the humanitarian crisis underway in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

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